Listen to Bob Huggins talk for five minutes and you’d swear he was coaching a team that had played one good half all season instead of one very bad one.
But the rotten one was also the most recent, and that had Huggins huffing after 14th-ranked West Virginia’s first loss and almost certainly in the days leading up to Sunday’s bounce-back opportunity against Louisiana-Monroe.
The Mountaineers (7-1) outscored their first seven opponents by an average of 30.8 points, and their first test against a ranked opponent was going just fine through 20 minutes. But after cutting through No. 10 Virginia’s defense and holding a 36-30 halftime lead, West Virginia was badly outplayed on both ends after the break in a 70-54 loss.
Taking any solace in that first-half performance, Bob?
“Do I look happy?” he asked grimly. “Do I look happy? I’m not happy. I’m not happy about anything.”
What irked Huggins the most was his team’s defensive effort. The Cavaliers shot 62.8 percent for the game and 73.7 percent in the second half, dismantling a Mountaineers team that had held its first six opponents to 36.6 percent from the field.
“We were awful. I don’t remember ever a team giving up that many layups in the halfcourt,” Huggins said. “Our halfcourt defense is supposed to be pretty good.”
West Virginia shot 6 for 20 after halftime and its starting backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. was a combined 2 for 17 overall, all of which left Huggins sarcastically considering a new offensive system.
“I can’t imagine we’re as bad as we are,” he said. “If we’re going to shoot it that bad we shouldn’t shoot it. I watch them every day. I know we take bad shots, out of rhythm, off balance. We don’t do a very good job of stepping into shots.”
That’s especially true from beyond the arc, where the Mountaineers are connecting on just 27 percent to rank among the bottom 20 teams in the nation. West Virginia averages just 4.6 made 3s and has totaled 12 on 51 attempts in its past four contests.
Turnovers have also become a problem for a team that prides itself on forcing them. Huggins’ team has 35 in its last two games and his press only forced one more (19) than his team committed against the Cavaliers.
“We’ve got to go back and start from the beginning and you can’t progress when you are going over the elementary things you have to do in order to advance,” he told the Mountaineers’ official website.
Louisiana-Monroe (4-4) isn’t a team that’s going to exploit West Virginia from deep – it makes 4.1 3s per game and shoots 28.9 percent – and the Warhawks should be fighting fatigue as well. They’ll be playing their third game in four days after falling 73-62 at Kent State on Thursday and 54-50 at Penn State on Saturday.
Coach Keith Richard took the opposite approach to Huggins’ sharp critiques after his team turned it over 18 times against the Nittany Lions, declining to comment.
Louisiana-Monroe has played both games on this trip without its best player, 6-foot-10 forward Majok Deng. The Australian, responsible for nearly 27 percent of the offense with 18.3 points per game, sustained a leg injury earlier in the week and is out indefinitely.
The Mountaineers were also ranked 14th the last time these teams met and won 88-69 at Morgantown in 2005.