The question on Bob Huggins’ mind during Monday’s shootaround involved TCU coach Jamie Dixon. As in, “Jamie, what did you do to get ejected from the previous game?”
Joshing around with his former Pitt nemesis turned out to be the best part of Huggins’ day. By midnight, in the wake of an 82-73 beating, the question turned to why his own players can’t consistently run offense.
Finishing with 73 points was a nod to tempo and obscured the depth of the offensive plight. With 6 1/2 minutes to play, West Virginia had scored 43, with Huggins watching his team miss 20-of-23 shots, essentially bricking its way to a third loss in four games.
“When you continue to miss shot after shot … I don’t know man,” Huggins said. “I wish I had more answers. If I could read minds and how togged people be their best, I wouldn’t be doing this. I’d probably go make millions and millions of dollars talking to corporations.”
Of course, Huggins actually does make millions, and his motivational ploys typically succeed at an impressive rate, as Press Virginia’s three-year run of top-10 appearances can attest. Monday’s performance became a bruising exception.
His staff tried to alert the Mountaineers to what awaited in Fort Worth: Namely, that TCU “was desperate” and dangerous despite tumbling out of the polls. Even with Jaylen Fisher on crutches, the Frogs were amped and
Huggins even referenced “all the B.S. leading into the game,” an apparent jab at TCU’s social media videos that hyped the school’s first appearance on ESPN’s “Big Monday” matchup. (And hyped it quite effectively, we might add, considering the Schollmaier Arena sellout drew more than one-fifth of the student body.)
This game clearly meant more to the Frogs, who pass the eye test of an NCAA team but not necessarily the win-loss record. That 2-5 start in the league required an immediate nose-up climb to bolster postseason hopes. Throttling West Virginia sure elevated the resume, with TCU rising to 17th in the RPI. (That’s four spots higher than WVU, should Huggins need to incentivize his guys for the next meeting in Morgantown.)
West Virginia became overly dependent on 3-point shooting, making 7-of-27, a reliance made more egregious by the second-half absence of Beetle Bolden, the team’s top-percentage shooter from 3.
TCU didn’t channel Golden State-like shooting either, making 40 percent overall and 9-of-24 from deep. Vlad Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams, the Frogs’ best scoring options all season, combined to miss 17-of-23 from the floor, with Brodziansky finishing 0-of-6 on 3-point looks that Dixon said “were wide-open.”
Because the Frogs couldn’t play pretty offensively, they beat WVU at its own gritty game.
“I thought we got the loose balls, the 50-50s, and if you can do that against West Virginia, you can do that against anybody,” Dixon said. “We haven’t been getting them.”
In contrast from Saturday’s double-technical exit at K-State, Dixon enjoyed a rosier sendoff. Court-storming students raised him above their shoulders over Dixon’s suggestion they exalt the players instead.
Leaving Pitt for TCU some 16 months ago — a dead-end move, some contended — Dixon envisioned this type of packed-house celebration. It was a scene that also spoke to what Huggins has accomplished with the Mountaineers, their last two road losses culminating in fans rushing the floor.
“What he’s done there is similar to what I’d like to do here,” Dixon said. “He went back to where he played. I know he’s loving it and I’m loving it too.”
And for one night on which the Frogs finally conquered West Virginia after 11 prior failures, Dixon was loving it a little more.