By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
I felt really good and encouraged about the West Virginia men’s basketball performance in Monday night’s hard-fought 61-56 loss to No. 2-ranked Kansas (19-1, 6-0).
So much so, it made me think that the Mountaineers could have won perhaps five or six games that they lost had they played as well as they did against Kansas.
Were that the situation, maybe West Virginia’s record might have been 14-6 or 15-5 overall instead of 9-11.
The crowd of 12,402, some sections wearing gold and the other blue, generated probably the most vocal support that Coach Bob Huggins’ team had for a game in the Coliseum this season.
Indeed, it was truly “Wild and Wonderful” that winter night. I was excited.
Apparently Huggins wasn’t as content, though. He said, “We missed shots and we missed free throws (in the second half).
“I just don’t know what we’re going to do. When their offense came around, we don’t guard them.”
The veteran mentor thought execution down the stretch really hurt. “What kills us is execution,” he said. “They made shots and we didn’t.”
Huggins also thought there are times WVU doesn’t get the ball in bounds, “and that’s crucial.” He also thought his team was terrible starting the game.
“It was terrible defensively and it was terrible offensively. Let’s be honest.”
Despite the struggling start, the Mountaineers definitely did some things well to remain competitive virtually throughout the 40 minutes of action.
They trailed by only 38-30 at halftime, and then pulled to within just two points a couple of times late in the second half.
West Virginia outscored the Jayhawks by 26-23 during the closing 20 minutes.
In stretching its winning streak to 19 games, Kansas shot a sizzling 59.1 percent from the field in the first half (13 of 22) and 54.1 percent for the game (20 of 37).
West Virginia shot only 36 percent in the first half (9 of 25) and 37.9 percent for the game (20 of 54).
The Jayhawks could only make 18 of 34 free throws for 52 percent. But the Mountaineers were red-hot with 80 percent, making 12 of 15. The total number of foul shots was an alarming 19 less than the referees gave the home team.
Kansas outrebounded by 36-27. But the Mountaineers committed only nine turnovers while the visitors had 16.
Aaric Murray, 6-foot-10 junior center, came off the bench to lead WVU in scoring with a team-high 17 points and seven rebounds. He played 29 minutes.
The only other local scorer in double-digits was Juwan Staten, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard. He tallied 14 points.
West Virginia now would have to win all 11 remaining games to finish with 20 regular-season victories. The team travels to Texas Tech on Saturday.
The Mountaineers will be trying to end a two-game losing streak.