“We finally made some shots,” Huggins said on Monday morning’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “Two of the last three [games], we shot over 50 percent ... I don’t think we did against Texas, but it was like 48 [actually 46.1 percent]. I think, for us, when we make shots, we give ourselves a chance.”
But even that doesn’t entirely explain the difference, as WVU is currently on a three-game winning streak, which ties for its longest such stretch of success this season.
West Virginia (12-11, 5-5 Big 12) has had plenty of close calls -- a five-point loss to then No. 2 Kansas, a two-point loss at Iowa State, a one-point loss to then-No. 18 Kansas State. But the difference, according to the veteran head coach, may be confidence and maturity from what is still a young backcourt.
“In all honesty, we’ve been so close ... we never really got over the hump and finished a game,” Huggins said. “Hopefully, we have enough confidence now -- we’re still so young in the backcourt, particularly, playing two freshmen and three sophomores. We’ve got a lot of youth there, and I think they’re growing up.”
With all that inexperience, Huggins openly wondered if -- in hindsight -- he had given this particular Mountaineer team too tough of a schedule.
WVU opened the season against a nationally-ranked team on the road before immediately traveling to a preseason tournament, the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. Then there were out-of-conference games against foes from the “power six” conferences like Michigan, Purdue and Virginia Tech.
“You know, you wonder about that,” Huggins said of the notion of a tough schedule killing the team’s confidence early. “You look at the preseason schedule, and when you open at Gonzaga, it’s obviously hard ... I’m sure that had something to do with it. But sometimes, I just wonder how much you get out of winning by 40, other than getting a bunch of people playing time that ordinarily don’t get it.”
If the Mountaineers hope to extend their winning streak to four games -- which would be a new season-best -- they will have to again come out on top in the Lone Star state, as WVU will travel to Waco to face Baylor on Wednesday night.
The Bears (15-8, 6-4) are one of the nation’s better rebounding teams, ranked 64th in rebounding margin through the games of Feb. 7 at plus-4.3 per game overall. WVU, conversely, has struggled on the glass of late.
“Rebounding has always been one of the staples of what we try to do,” Huggins said. “You know, honestly, sometimes [the stats] are skewed. If a team misses a bunch of free throws, obviously you’re on the inside and ought to get those rebounds. When teams shoot a high percentage, there aren’t as many rebounds. I guess, fortunately or unfortunately for us, we’ve missed enough where there’s enough to rebound.”
Facing Baylor means the Mountaineers will have to try to account for star guard Pierre Jackson, who is 25th nationally in scoring average at 19.1 points per game. The senior from Las Vegas is more than just a pure scorer, averaging 6.0 assists per outing as well.
Jackson scored 23 points and added five rebounds and four assists in BU’s 83-81 win over West Virginia last season.
“First of all, he’s certainly one of the best players in the league,” Huggins said. “He can really score the ball, and he does a great job with ball screens. They do a great job of ball screening for him, and they can get you spread because they have a number of other guys capable of making shots as well ... they can spread you so much, which makes him, I think, even more effective.”
The Big 12 race bunched up considerably in recent days, as prohibitive preseason favorite Kansas has stumbled to a three-game losing streak since beating WVU on Jan. 28.
That has allowed Kansas State to take the lead in what looks to be a tight race entering the final weeks of the regular season. Six teams are within two games of the Wildcats, and seventh-place WVU is only three games back.
Huggins was asked if he was surprised at the developments.
“You know, you guys ask [coaches] that, and we’re the worst guys in the world to ask, because we don’t pay any attention,” the head coach said. “We watched Kansas, and as soon as the Kansas game was over with, I believe we had Texas Tech next, and so that’s what we do. You turn your attention to the next team. I really, honestly don’t pay much attention. I probably watch less basketball on television than anybody on this call.”