West Virginia-Northern Kentucky Preview
Bob Huggins thinks West Virginia lost its focus after entering the Top 25 last week.
With their status among the elite in jeopardy, the No. 16 Mountaineers will try to avoid overlooking upset-minded Northern Kentucky in their first road game of the season Sunday night.
West Virginia (7-1) cracked the AP poll at No. 21 last week after beating then-No. 17 Connecticut 78-68 on Nov. 23. The Mountaineers followed that with easy wins over VMI and the College of Charleston, but squandered a 14-point, second-half lead and gave up the decisive score on an easy layup with 7.4 seconds left to fall 74-73 to LSU on Thursday.
West Virginia also failed to capitalize on 19 steals and 24 turnovers while allowing the Tigers to make 8 of 15 from 3-point range.
"I think they need to see how bad they are," Huggins said. "I think we need to look at some film and see how bad we are defensively and in the half-court. It's deteriorated. I think you get to where you want to steal the ball too much some times."
While the Mountaineers lead the nation with an average of 14.5 steals, Huggins feels the issues are mental.
"I think the positive thing about it is that they're good kids," he said. "They listened really good until probably after the Connecticut game. You get ranked and every body is running around telling them how good they are and they don't know how to handle it. I tried to tell them for three days; we don't have five guys better than Texas ... Kansas ... Iowa State ... Kansas State, but we got 10, 12.
"You gotta kinda buy into that."
That better happen soon because Huggins will remind his team it lost 77-74 to then-Division II Northern Kentucky (3-4) in an exhibition game in Morgantown in 2011.
The Mountaineers will certainly need to show improvement from the field after making a season-low 34.3 percent while missing 12 of 17 attempts from beyond the arc Thursday.
Juwan Staten leads the team with average of 15.4 points and 4.3 assists, but he's struggled of late. The senior guard is 9 for 28 (32.1 percent) from the floor while totaling 27 points in two games after sinking 47.2 percent over the first six.
Jonathan Holton is also trying to re-discover his shooting stroke after scoring four points while making 2 of 10 against LSU. The senior forward was averaging 12.9 points while hitting 54.2 percent from the field in seven games.
The Norse are in their third season in Division I and looking to beat a ranked team for the first time in six tries.
"LSU went down by 14 early in the second half," coach Dave Bezold said. "Now, this is the reason they were able to chip away at the lead and come back. These are the things we have to handle; from their pressing to their constant pressure and harassment in the half-court."
Tayler Persons leads the Norse with 11.3 points per game, and he's the player averaging in double digits. The freshman guard had 15 points in Wednesday's 71-56 loss to Tennessee-Martin after getting a season-high 23 in a 79-74 win at Idaho.
This matchup also provides a reunion for Huggins, as he faces his nephew, guard Anthony Monaco. The junior has totaled six points in two games after being moved to the bench and is averaging 3.9 points.