West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins called out his team’s poor defensive following their 85-80 loss to Florida in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge Saturday afternoon.
“We let them (Florida) get started,” Huggins said. “We didn’t guard them coming out of halftime. They’re good. They’ve got really good players. They got us spread out.”
What’s more concerning is that Huggins believes his team lacks heart, which will be paramount in securing victories over the challenging stretch of games approaching in the Mountaineers’ schedule.
No. 17 West Virginia (11-5, 4-3 Big 12) will play nine games in February, including rematches against No. 23 Kansas, No. 13 Texas Tech, No. 9 Oklahoma and No. 6 Texas, all of whom defeated the Mountaineers earlier in the season. WVU will also face No. 2 Baylor twice in a three-day stretch.
“This was a hard game,” Huggins said following the team’s loss to Florida. “But we are going to play hard games the rest of the way. Our league is about hard games. We have guys that just didn’t respond today. They didn’t respond to it being hard.”
The Mountaineers will need to dig deep in order to shift their mindset, especially on the defensive end. After losing big men Isaiah Cottrell to injury and Oscar Tshiebwe to the transfer portal, West Virginia altered their game to focus on the offense. They now run perimeter-oriented schemes and have improved their offensive efficiency, shooting 42.9% from the field.
Their defense, however, has struggled. Prior to the new year, the Mountaineers were holding opponents to an average 67.5 points per game. With the exception of Kansas State, who the Mountaineers defeated 69-47, the Mountaineers have given up an average of 80.6 points per game since January 1st.
The loss of Cottrell and Tshiebwe exposed a weakness in the Mountaineers’ defense, particularly inside the paint. Now playing with a significantly shorter roster, West Virginia is ranked 221st nationally for blocks, averaging only 2.8 per game. Their two-point field goal percentage places them at 212th nationally, allowing opponents to shoot 50.7% from inside.
For Huggins, the lack of defensive effort is not something that can be coached, it must be realized by his players themselves.
“I’m not a witch doctor and I’m certainly not a cardiologist,” Huggins said during a press conference Monday. “At some point in time, I think they maybe ought to get tired of losing these games. You know, a lot of guarding is wanting to. I’ve had guys that maybe weren’t as fundamentally sound as other guys, but they guarded their tails off because they took a lot of pride in it. I just don’t see a lot of pride. I don’t see anybody getting mad when their man scores…I don’t see anybody upset.”
The Mountaineers simply don’t care as much about their defense as they do offense, which is a serious problem for Huggins.
“They just can’t wait to get it out of bounds and go the other way, and that’s not a good thing,” Huggins said. “It’s got to matter to you. Everybody gets mad when they miss a shot. You ought to get mad when your man makes one.”
West Virginia returns to action Tuesday evening at Iowa State. With games nearly every two-to-three days for the duration of February and six contests against ranked opponents, the Mountaineers will need to figure out a way to dig deep if they plan to find success.
The Mountaineers and Cyclones tip-off at 7:00 EST on ESPN+.
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