Justin K. Aller
A horrid first half followed by a game effort in the second simply wasn't enough to overcome the mighty Jayhawks, who found a way to win despite turning the ball over at an alarming rate and struggling from the free throw line.
Between Kansas' uniforms and WVU's play for most of the first half, I nearly went blind. Or maybe it was the moonshine I needed just to maintain my sanity through one of the worst stretches of basketball I've ever witnessed at any level. The Mountaineers honestly looked like an undisciplined middle school team for stretches. Yes, credit Kansas, ranked by the coaches as the best team in the country. They trot out waves of fantastic players the whole of which is greater than the sum of their parts. They complement each other well, they compete, and they make the smart play, which is evidently something entirely foreign to these Mountaineers. Underthrown inbounds passes, lackadaisical effort on transition defense, and poor decisions in attempting to drive the lane then throwing ill-advised cross-court passes characterized much of the Mountaneers' first half. And I feel like I"m missing something. Oh yes, Jabarie Hinds taking a mid-range jumper off an offensive rebound with 23 seconds left in the half. Are. You. Freaking. Me. No, I didn't leave out kidding.
And yet, the home team was only down by 8 at the break. I'm not even sure what we should attribute that to. A couple nice plays by Aaric Murray? Superior performance from the free throw line? A rash of silly passes by the Jayhawks leading to easy Mountaineer run-outs? Whatever it is, this team was only down 8 at the break despite playing some of the worst basketball I've ever witnessed out of a WVU team. We all expected to get drummed. I just hoped we looked like we had a clue how to play the game in the process. No matter.
But then, the second half happened. WVU clawed to within 2 points. It found ways to keep the score within striking range the rest of the way, fighting for loose balls and rebounds, defending, and managing a bucket or two at just the right times to keep Kansas from pulling away. But, just like the rest of the season, it wasn't enough. Sure, the horrific decisions and unathletic plays disappeared. But as they had all season long, Huggins' squad lacked the punch to put them over the hump and into the lead. Absolutely credit Kansas for coming up with much-needed stops and buckets to stretch the lead back to 9 after the Mountaineers cut it to 2. But credit the Mountaineers for continuing to fight even until the last possession.
This team is maddening to watch. You see flashes where they could be decent, then stretches of lazy and stupid play. Shame on our crowd for leaving when they did. They gave up when the team continued to fight, and honestly had a puncher's chance unitl the least 30 seconds. I see potential in this group. I really do. No, not for this season. This year has been lost to development and playing spoiler. But in the future? If kids continue to buy into the way Huggins wants them to play? If Harris and Henderson develop and the new kids next year can contribute? That team can make the tournament. And the following year? Who knows.
But this year? It's a waste. Oh, I'm going to continue to support the team. I'll attend a few games and watch the ones I can't on TV. I'll root like heck and continue to believe. But I won't be surprised by more efforts like tonight that, while entertaining and tantalizing, continue to fall short of sweet victory.