MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Seconds after Friday’s practice ended, West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins summed up his players’ return from a three-day Christmas break.
“Most of them were good,” Huggins said. “But there were some guys who didn’t do anything (during the break) and you’ll be able to tell that by their minutes on Sunday.”
Sunday brings a close to a mostly unsatisfying nonconference schedule when the Mountaineers (7-5) host William & Mary (6-4) in Charleston. Tipoff is 3 p.m. on Root Sports television.
Since losing to Purdue 73-70 on Dec. 22 in Morgantown, West Virginia’s RPI has dipped to 119th. Yes, the teams that have beaten WVU boast a combined record of 48-10, but West Virginia’s strength of scheduled ranked only 106th as of Friday—because the teams WVU has beaten own a pitiful record of 25-48 against Division I competition.
While Huggins has pointed out reasons for optimism this season—and generally seems far more encouraged by his team’s chemistry and coachability—he cites numerous lapses as making the difference in narrow losses to Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Virginia Tech and Purdue.
“I don’t think guys are born just playing hard—it’s a learned skill,” he said. “I have had a lot of guys who didn’t compete well when they first got here, but they became great competitors by the time they left.”
Against Purdue, WVU couldn’t overcome 3-of-18 shooting from 3-point range, a cold performance that dropped the Mountaineers’ long-distance shooting accuracy below 40 percent for the first time this season. Yet Huggins thought a larger factor was WVU’s defensive slip-ups that allowed Purdue to score close to the basket.
“If we would’ve made them shoot jump shots instead of layups, we probable would’ve won the game,” he said.
Huggins reiterated Friday that he expects freshman Brandon Watkins to have an increased role. The 6-9 forward has averaged 20 minutes of action in West Virginia’s past two games after averaging 8.2 minutes during the first 10.
“He’s got to play—he’s earned it,” Huggins said. “He was further behind the other guys when we started but he has probably made more progress than anybody.”
After a breakout game against Marshall with 12 points and 11 rebounds, Watkins was held scoreless against Purdue—going 0-of-4 on tip-in and outback attempts. (“Those are shots he’s going to have to make,” Huggins said.) But Watkins grabbed eight rebounds against the Boilermakers and registered three blocks, doubling his season total. He also picked up four fouls.
“He just can’t get dumb fouls though,” Huggins said. “He got two dumb fouls that limited his playing time.”