The pulling right tackle on this play is Isaiah Hardy, and he’s the large left guard at Lackawanna College. He’s also one of the top pieces of business for West Virginia as signing day approaches with a “new” offensive line coach. The final contact period started Thursday. Signing day is Feb. 1. The Mountaineers have visitors lined up but without the benefit of a home basketball game the first two weekends. Hardy was one of three prospects to make an official visit this weekend.
He claimed an offer from the Mountaineers nearly a year ago, but during the fall, he never took a visit, and said he rarely spoke with the coaches. According to his head coach, Mark Duda, that was largely due to the fact Hardy is not big on the recruiting scene, wanted to focus on his team’s season, and that his lead recruiter was Ron Crook, who was not renewed by WVU earlier this month.
Now? Things are hot and heavy between the two parties, as the Mountaineers sent new offensive line coach Joe Wickline and area recruiter Mark Scott to see Hardy on the first day of the contact period. That was Thursday, and by Saturday afternoon, Hardy was on campus for his official. He will stay until Monday afternoon, and despite verbal offers from over two dozen other programs, he may not take any other visits after this one — always a good sign for WVU.
The Big 12 standings are goofy. Oklahoma State is 0-5 and in last place, but that team’s tough. Oklahoma looked like the worst team before Saturday, and indeed is the lowest Big 12 team in the RPI, but the Sooners beat Texas Tech Saturday. Texas is supposed to be ruined for the season, and by the sounds of it won’t have Tevin Mack back at all, but the Longhorns look like they’ll give people trouble at some point.
Heck, they already are. There was a three-game slide early on, and the losses were by 19, 14 and 11 points. Since then, the seven losses are by three, three, five, three, nine, three and two. No. 10 West Virginia, able to make some plays and avoid some others, was fortunate to win, but don’t overlook this: The Mountaineers were also good enough to win.
The Longhorns (7-10, 1-4 Big 12), who were picked third behind No. 2 Kansas and WVU in the Big 12 coaches’ preseason poll, led for 19 minutes, 22 seconds and had a seven-point lead in the first half and a six-point lead in the second half.
The Mountaineers (15-2, 4-1) had Jevon Carter, and the junior point guard scored 10 of his 17 points in the final 4:30.
“It’s about time he started doing that,” said teammate Tarik Phillip, who scored 12 points, the most he’s had in conference play. “We’ve been waiting for him to do it. He’s a very capable shot-maker and a great free-throw shooter as well.”
Nate Adrian played just 20 minutes and only six in the first half because of foul trouble, but he still finished with eight points and six rebounds. Adrian, who was also playing through an illness, had a basket and two free throws down the stretch, and the free throws came with 37.9 seconds to go after he fought for a critical offensive rebound.
“In some ways, maybe it was a blessing he got in foul trouble and I didn’t play him all that much until the end, because he’s not playing with a full tank,” Huggins said. “He was pretty sick.”
Leading scorer Esa Ahmad finished 0 for 2 and had four points and five turnovers. Dax Miles, who has the team’s three 20-point games this season, shot 3 for 11 and missed all six of his 3-point attempts. The Mountaineers had 15 turnovers and six assists on 24 baskets and could only generate six steals with the press.
“I wouldn’t say this was one of our best weeks,” Carter said. “We could have been better, but we just found a way to do what we had to do.”
You are looking live inside the Frank Erwin Center, where the digs for the visitors are not nearly as nice as they are at home. This building, as you know, has not been accommodating for West Virginia through the years. Good and bad teams have lost here, and both have played poor or mediocre basketball.
Oddly enough, though, this is the place that was one of the most unlikely comebacks and wins in the Bob Huggins Era. Remember this? And do you remember that team?
Texas is stumbling into this game and the Mountaineers are the sort of bunch that ordinarily can’t wait to play games — they’re easier than practice — and has to see a chance to keep the momentum moving. The 10th-ranked team is an 11 1/2-point favorite today, and Our Friends in the Desert want $750 from you if you want to make $100 from them. TeamRankings.com gives WVU an 86.1-percent chance of winning –the ninth-easiest remaining game.
Texas is short-handed today, and thanks to injuries, the team was only using eight players in Big 12 play before suspending its leading scorer. All eyes ought to be on the guards.
Texas handled the WVU press last season. Shaka Smart’s first team had 15 turnovers combined in two games against WVU last season. Both games were wins. Baylor had 16 in the first 20 minutes Tuesday. The Bears lost. It’s pretty much universally accepted WVU is better defensively this season, and Texas no longer has Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix. These Longhorns will have four guards today, including two freshmen and the junior college transfer who have never seen the Mountaineers. Smart will impart his wisdom upon them.
Without Mack, the Longhorns have four other guards, and those players all have more assists than turnovers, though the assists only outnumber the turnovers by 33. Smart must school them on what to do and what to avoid.
Smart said he needs his guards to use an aggressive attack to counter and succeed against the aggressive press, but they must also be calm enough to avoid falling victim to WVU’s designs.
“For instance, when you throw the ball into the dead corner, especially on the ball side, West Virginia is terrific at trapping and turning you over,” Smart said. “When you have the ball in the middle of the floor, it’s a little bit more difficult to trap you. When you beat a trap, you’ve got to make sure you have an awareness of who’s coming from behind you.”
Let’s watch the frontcourt, too. WVU’s is developing a rotation or reputation or both there. The Longhorns have one of the league’s best young forwards. Jarrett Allen, a 6-foot-11, 235-pound freshman, has started all 16 games and averages 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. In four Big 12 games, he’s at 12.8 and 10 with two blocks per game, and he shoots 53.8 percent from the floor.
“He’s so agile and bouncy and gets off the floor quick,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “He’s long. He’s a terrific shot-blocker. He really runs in transition.”
Allen starts alongside space-eater Shaquille Cleare, who’s 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds. James Banks, a 6-10, 240-pound freshman, comes off the bench. WVU thinks it has a counter. Huggins has used the phrase “three-headed monster” a few times lately — “That three-headed monster has been pretty good.” — to describe the Brandon Watkins-Sagaba Konate-Elijah Macon entity. This is a game for them to meet a challenge and continue to round out the team’s attack.
The grievances Bob Huggins has aired about the Big 12 schedule are not new to you. I still think, given a do-over, West Virginia would handle differently the Friday-Tuesday set to open conference play. I have to think the Mountaineers would have a) stayed on the road and not traveled home after the Oklahoma State game Friday and then flown to Texas Tech Monday or b) would have flown home Friday and stayed in Lubbock, Texas, following the Tuesday night game. WVU had some options because the spring semester had not yet begun.
But I also have to think Huggins knew that was just the beginning and that the three 9 p.m. EST road games in a five-game, 14-day stretch as well as three straight Saturday-Monday sets in February are going to be a challenge and he’d prefer not to see one or the other or both in the future.
That said, the Mountaineers are not vagrants, and they’re indeed fortunate to have private charters to all their road games. Believe it or not, what’s come to be an afterthought, a luxury almost taken for granted throughout all the major conferences and at the major programs, this didn’t exist before Huggins arrived in the spring of 2007.
“We talked about that very briefly before I signed a contract — I went down to the business office, and they said they had it in the budget,” said Huggins, who returned to his alma mater to replace Beilein in the spring of 2007. “Then, all of a sudden, they didn’t have it in the budget. I basically told them, ‘I think you hired the wrong guy. I’m too old to do that, man.’ ”
As a compromise, Huggins agreed to work with the Mountaineer Athletic Club so the team could charter for the 2007-08 season. That created the Legacy Fund, which no longer finances the charters and instead covers travel costs for recruiting. Huggins and the MAC “raised some money, but it wasn’t enough for all the charters,” but the team nevertheless had its own plane wherever it went.
“It never was an issue again,” he said.
Life’s nevertheless not perfect for WVU. It’s one of four Big 12 schools serviced by an airport an hour or so from campus.
There’s nothing wrong with believing in the concept of the cumulative effect No. 10 West Virginia seeks to inflict. There’s no issue with marveling at how the Mountaineers defend the entire area of the court. I suspect Bob Huggins wants that. It’s the trap the team has set this season.
Funny thing about Tuesday night’s postgame: I don’t think West Virginia’s players or coaches were nearly as excited as everyone else was on the floor or in the postgame debriefing — and I include the media in that conversation. You can expect and perhaps even accept this, but some reporters get or still get pumped about covering a game like that. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little more attuned to what I wrote that night. I really don’t want to become the sort of person whose needle doesn’t move after witnessing an event like that.
Those are the Refrigerator Stories, which I guess now are the cc: stories. You use to cut them put and slap a magnet on the Maytag. Now you forward links to your friends and family members. Six of his. Half-a-dozen of that.
Anyhow, in the search for color and anecdotes, you’d hear a few people ask the players, “What was the locker room like?” That’s a staple. The response? Mostly shoulder shrugs and mentions of Texas and not of Baylor. Where you expected jumping and shouting you instead found players seated around their leader and quietly acknowledging his words with, “Yes, sir.”
Seems weird to break down one play from a game that was decided by 21 points and over well before it was indeed over, but Baylor tried its best not to be blown out Tuesday night. An 11-point lead was down to just five, and Bob Huggins used his now-or-never timeout to end the first half and, honestly, secure two important points.
This wasn’t long before the tip last night, and it was a scene-setter. Forget the fact Dax Miles hangs on the rim. Nobody misses here, but nobody’s pushing up goofy shots for the heck of it. Even Beetle Bolden and Miles are doing what they ordinarily do during their last trip through warmpus and before they jog off the floor and into the locker room.
Also, the crowd. Dare we say everyone was ESPecially locked in for No. 1?
Hours later, it ended like this.
A lot happened in between — that game was close and nervy for a little bit, don’t forget — but let it be known No. 1 has lost by more than 21 times only seven times before.