MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins didn’t mince words over West Virginia’s struggles.
Speaking with reporters a day before rival Pittsburgh (7-2) comes calling on the WVU Coliseum, Huggins called the Mountaineers (5-3) a team that is “still searching.”
Searching for what? Anything and everything, the West Virginia coach said, beginning with a healthy center. Sagaba Konate is doubtful for Saturday.
“I don’t think Sags can go,” Huggins said. “Sags didn’t practice again [Thursday]. His game has declined, because he hasn’t practiced.”
Konate’s lingering knee injury has been an issue throughout the season, but his availability for practices and games is just one part of a long list of frustrations that includes injuries to point guard Beetle Bolden, defensive miscues, inconsistency from senior Esa Ahmad and flurries of turnovers. As in 122 turnovers.
“Esa has 17 assists and 23 turnovers,” Huggins began. “Sags has 11 assists and 16 turnovers. Beetle is 18 and 13. Brandon Knapper has 21 turnovers to 20 assists. How are you going to win? We’re at 126 assists [as a team] and 122 turnovers. You’re not going to win. I don’t know a lot, but I know if you keep giving them the ball, it’s not good.”
In a perfect storm of sorts, many of the Mountaineers’ shortcoming hit at the same time in Tuesday’s 66-56 loss against Florida in New York.
“When you miss the free throws we missed, let them get open shots and not score the ball well and turn the ball over, it’s not the best combination for a win,” West Virginia guard Chase Harler said. “That was our worst game by far. We have to learn from it. The main thing is effort. We think we’re playing hard, but at this level, there is a whole other level we have to reach. That’s where we’re kind of struggling right now.”
Huggins on some of the team’s other setbacks:
“I don’t know who is going to show up each day,” he said. “Brandon has had moments when he’s been pretty good. He’s also had moments when he’s been really bad. We’re asking a whole lot out of guys who have zero experience. When you take two of the three guys [Bolden and Konate] who played the most for us, really they haven’t practiced. Esa is struggling. Before, we could live with Esa struggling, because we had other guys. Now, we need him to be consistent and he’s been anything but. It’s a whole lot of things. There isn’t one thing you can put your finger on.”
The Mountaineers’ struggles are out in the open at a crucial time. West Virginia is still in search of a quality nonconference win, but Harler said simply getting to a point where West Virginia is playing better is more of the focus.
“We know there is a lot on the line coming off a loss,” Harler said. “We definitely need this win to get back on track. We played them last year at their place and they gave us a really good game. This year, they are way better than last year.”
While conference play doesn’t begin until next month, Huggins wants his players to sense the urgency — that early defeats can be just as damaging to a college hoops team as they can be in college football.
“You could make the argument that basketball is not a whole lot different,” Huggins said. “If you don’t get to nine or 10 wins in the nonconference, it makes it hard. Because now you’re talking about playing in the best league in the country and having to win 12 games. We were 12-6 a couple of times, but we were really good then.”