|Huggins' team led most of the way, but after Kevin Jones didn't get shots near the end, UConn stole it. (US Presswire)|
NEW YORK — West Virginia’s Big East membership ends with a whimper and an ill-attempted fall-away shot by Paul Williamson.
Meanwhile, UConn Big East tournament storyline gets another injection and dollop of hype thanks to the Mountaineers’ inability to close out a 63-54 lead with 3:40 to go during Wednesday afternoon’s conference quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden. The Mountaineers, a .500 team in the Big East this season that hasn’t beaten a surefire NCAA tournament club since Jan. 21 (Cincinnati), made things more complicated upon their swift exit out of the league.
So, why was Williamson in the game, and why was he even shooting the ball with seconds ticking away in overtime? The rarely used man was inserted after the best beard in college basketball and the man attached to it, Deniz Kilicli, fouled out with 4:20 to go in regulation. Huggins opted to use a few different lineups once Kilicli was unavailable. Trailing 71-67, the entertaining, gruff coach had seen enough of his young team and its unreliable guards give the game away. So up went Williamson’s shot on a play Huggins refrained from expounding upon afterward. The ball met the side of the backboard, and it was in that moment that many inside the Garden looked at each other and asked, “Who is that?”
With the shot failing, it signaled West Virginia’s biggest problem and the only reason that it lost this game. Where was Kevin Jones? He’s the guy Bob Huggins is ticked off about not winning the league’s Player of the Year award (Jones came in second to Marquette’s Jae Crowder). Because Jones was hounded by future NBA lottery pick Andre Drummond — a bright moment for the UConn freshman in a game that saw him miss a field goal as if he was putting from 30 feet out — the young Mountaineers got tunnel vision and backed their way into overtime against No. 9 UConn.
Once in overtime, West Virginia didn’t make a field goal. Oh-for-11. The team couldn’t find Jones and Jones couldn’t get open. He didn’t attempt a shot in the final 7:15 of regulation.
“I feel a little bit of disbelief, disappointment,” Jones said. “We didn’t make the correct decisions at the end. I think it was a little bit that they had Andre Drummond on me. Some of my teammates weren’t able to find me. UConn made the correct plays at the end of the game.”
Was this an emotional ending for Huggins? Uh, no, at least not outwardly. When one reporter addressed him and the players in the postgame press conference, Huggins was either lost in the riveting stat sheet or just flat out ignoring the question. He lifted his head up when the room was silent after the question was completed, as if he’d been called on in class and got caught daydreaming.
Jones answer the question. Eventually, Huggins did talk when another was asked.
“It’s been a good run,” he said of West Virginia’s 17-year stay in the Big East. “We’ve enjoyed it — most of it, anyway. There’s nothing like coming to the Garden to play in the tournament.”
That was all Huggins had to say about it. And as for Williamson’s involvement, I asked him how the play broke down. He responded, “He made a hard shot.”
Made? What? I don’t even know. Maybe he misheard. What's evident now and has been the case for most of this season and the majority of his career: Huggins is ticked. He should be, because this team’s been inconsistent and a frustrating one for him to coach this season. If not for Jones, WVU isn’t even in the NIT.
“He (Jones) was playing with a bunch of freshman that don’t have any idea what the hell they’re doing,” Huggins said. “And they don’t mean to, but to do what this guy’s done … with seven freshmen and a junior college transfer who didn’t play … we couldn’t ask him [and senior Truck Bryant] to do any more. You hope that your freshmen get better and start to understand a little bit better. You can’t give them the ball at the end and knowing full well it’s hard to guard him at the foul line.”
As for the mandatory are-they-in question, I think WVU is headed to the First Four, or just barely dodge it with an 11 seed. They've got enough inventory to clear the 10-or-so teams fighting to squeeze in. Here is Huggins’ defense of WVU's resume:
“We’ve played more games against top 100 than anybody in the country. We’ve played more games against top 50 teams. We’ve done more things than they’ve asked us to do, except win a couple of games,” Huggins said.It's that last part that always catches up with teams.