By Cam Huffman
In times of frustration throughout West Virginia’s 8-8 start to the 2012-13 basketball season, head coach Bob Huggins has put forth challenges, compliments and threats.
Now he’s making promises.
After another heartbreaking loss Wednesday night against Iowa State — this one a 69-67 setback to the Cyclones in Ames, Iowa, after the Mountaineers battled back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game at 67-all with 11 seconds to play — WVU’s sixth-year head coach vowed to play a different style of basketball from this point forward.
“We’re going to have to play small,” said Huggins. “This (the Big 12) is a different league than what we were in (the Big East). It’s officiated differently, the style of play is different and we’re going to have to change. We’re going to have to change our personnel.”
Huggins alluded to possible changes earlier in the season, but what he saw Saturday apparently convinced him to permanently make the switch.
Iowa State (12-4) led just 29-26 at halftime, as WVU was able to play the game closer to the tempo it prefers instead of ISU’s high-scoring attack, but in the second half, things fell apart for the Mountaineers as the Cyclones came out of the locker room with an 18-4 run to put WVU in a deep hole.
“They ball screened, and our bigs didn’t do anything,” said Huggins, complaining of inconsistent defense in the paint. “They were supposed to hard hedge, and they didn’t hard hedge. They just kind of stood there in the lane. I’ve got three guys that think they’re Shaq, except they’re not.”
So instead of staying the same and watching that lead swell even larger, Huggins went with a four-guard lineup, putting Juwan Staten, Jabarie Hinds, Eron Harris and Matt Humphrey on the floor at the same time, with Kevin Noreen getting most of the time at the center spot.
That rotation caught fire, with Staten scoring seven points and dishing out seven assists, Harris scoring 17 points on 4-of-7 shooting from behind the 3-point arc, Humphrey scoring nine points and Hinds finishing with a game-high 20 points, including a game-tying 3-pointer that finished off a WVU run that erased what had been an 18-point Cyclone lead with 9:04 left to play.
“We changed lineups,” said Huggins when asked the reason for the run. “We tried to spread them and penetrate and get shots. We played with the one big (Noreen) that actually tried to get a rebound.
“I’ve always thought if you tried to get one and you got one, you might like it and try to get another one. We have guys that obviously haven’t got any, so they haven’t fallen in love with it.”
WVU, which started the game 0-for-12 from 3-point distance, made 9 of 12 from that point forward, including three longballs from Humphrey, who had seen very few minutes in recent games.
“I needed another guy,” said Huggins of increasing the role of the senior transfer from Boston College. “You get tired of saying the same things to the same people day after day after day.
“I think sitting over there (on the bench) has given Matt a greater appreciation for being on the floor. Therefore, he’s accepted his role a little bit better.”
And that’s going to have to be the case for a number of Mountaineers as the season moves forward.
WVU may not have left Hilton Coliseum with a win Wednesday night, but Huggins definitely saw something he liked, and at 1-3 in Big 12 play, he’s willing to try anything to right the ship.
“We’re going with a small lineup,” he promised again. “I’m not doing that (making threats) anymore. They’ve had ample opportunity. They’ve had over half the season. How can it be worse? We’re 1-3.”
WVU’s first opportunity to try out the new approach will be Saturday when it travels to Purdue for the final nonconference matchup of the season. That game will tip off at 2 p.m. and air live on CBS.
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.