KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For 40 minutes of Big 12 tournament basketball that was equal parts exciting and excruciating, Bob Huggins must have felt as if the entire season was recapping in front of him.
Every failing from November to March was encapsulated during Wednesday’s 71-69 loss to Texas Tech, a game that muted all the standardized chatter about this Sprint Center event offering new life, fresh opportunity and season-salvaging redemption.
In the rarest of cases, hopeless-looking teams magically straighten themselves and string together four victories at these conference tourneys. But against the Red Raiders, West Virginia could hardly string together four good minutes.
Against a team ranked 227th in the RPI, the Mountaineers fell behind 30-16 and didn’t lead until 8:31 remained in the game.
Against an opponent ranked last in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting, WVU watched 8-of-12 long-range jumpers connect.
Against the weakest rebounding team in the conference, West Virginia found itself out-boarded 31-28.
The final rebound was the most scrutinized: Tech’s 6-foot-11 Dejan Kravic tapping in the game-winner with 0.4 seconds left while three Mountaineers (Aaric Murray, Dominique Rutledge and Jabarie Hinds) became mannequins. But the astonishing part was that West Virginia managed to take the game down to the final possession.
Deniz Kilicli, while stung by the closing moments, estimated that if the opposition had been anybody else but Texas Tech, the Mountaineers would have lost by 15.
“We played horrible the whole game,” assessed Kilicli, a senior who obviously isn’t majoring in sugar-coating. “A lot of turnovers, really stupid turnovers — I can’t find another word to say it. Just mental breakdowns on rotations.”
Finally, he concluded, “Everybody wasn’t into it,” a summation that was equally applicable to opening night in Spokane as it was closing night in Kansas City.