MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–When West Virginia lost to Western Kentucky in the Myrtle Beach Invitational, things seemed bleak for the youthful Mountaineers.
In the loss, WVU committed 22 turnovers, an uncharacteristic feat for the team known as “Press Virginia”.
Instead of getting down, the Mountaineers got to work on correcting the problem and improving in all aspects of the game from shooting to defending.
Head coach Bob Huggins had complained about the team’s abysmal passing all fall and that has been one area of focus for WVU of late.
“Just take care of the ball and make more passes,” junior guard Chase Harler said. “Try not to make the home run pass every single time. I think when we work the ball inside-out, it makes it a lot easier to do those kind of passes.”
Over the last four games, the Mountaineers have put together a winning streak and cut down drastically on the miscues.
Against Valparaiso, WVU had seven turnovers. Last Wednesday, the Mountaineers had 14 turnovers but had 21 assists.
On Saturday, WVU dished out 20 assists and only committed nine miscues. And the goal for the team has been to keep it under 10.
What has changed in two weeks?
“Just being smart and not making the hero pass every single time,” Harler said.
On top of that, the Mountaineers seem to be coming together as a team.
“Honestly, the confidence has always been there,” junior guard James Beetle Bolden said. “We just trust each other more on the offensive and defensive end. Everyone is communicating out there and it’s making everyone’s job easier.”
After years of having veteran leadership in the backcourt, WVU has a fresh look out there that lacks the experience.
“Our backcourt is very young,” redshirt freshman Brandon Knapper said. “You got redshirt freshman, freshman and James ‘Beetle’ Bolden, a junior. We’re young and we’re just working on taking care of the ball every day. We’re getting better at it.”
Knapper and Jordan McCabe grew tremendously the last couple of weeks.
And the more the two play, the better they will become.
“They ask me why Beetle didn’t play more minutes,” Huggins said after the Youngstown State win. “He didn’t play more minutes because we’re trying to get Knap and Jordan better. It’s the same way with Sags (Sagaba Konate). We know what Sags can do. Logan deserves to play — he works his butt off. We have to continue to bring Andrew along. It’s not a matter of managing their minutes because of Sags’ knee or Beetle’s hand, it’s more trying to give those other guys minutes when we can get them minutes.
“Now, we’re getting into the rest of the way here and we’re going to have to play our butts off to win. Obviously, those guys are going to play more minutes.”
Defensively, the Mountaineers are a work in progress still but they have improved some in that area. They forced 15 Penguin turnovers last game but at times still look discombobulated.
WVU struggles in transition and give up a lot of open 3s to opponents.
Time is this young Mountaineers team’s friend but the road ahead is anything but easy.
Coming up on Tuesday, WVU will get a huge test against Florida at Madison Square Garden in the second game of the Jimmy V Classic. From there, the Mountaineers return home to battle long time rival Pitt and travel to Connecticut to play Rhode Island.