Huggins: We Ain't Dead Yet - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Huggins: We Ain't Dead Yet

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LAWRENCE, Kan. -

Bob Huggins had his sights set on an upset Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. His West Virginia basketball team let a winnable game slip away, but the air around the visitor's locker room was full of something much different than heartbreak or dejection.

It was full of hope and of pride.

First of all, let's be clear: No one in this game wants moral victories.

They'll claim they don't exist and all that matters is whether or not one more tally goes in the win column. They are right, too. A win over the No. 8 team in the nation and the team with the best RPI would have done this group wonders, but a loss also isn't the end of the world or the end of WVU's season.

Last season's anemic showing at The Phog resulted in a 91-65 pounding and a bunch of players lost in despair as they gave postgame interviews. This year was clearly different.

"Overall, we're a better team than we were," Eron Harris said after the game. "Ten times better game than it was last year and I'm proud of my teammates and I can't wait to play them again at home."

That's the beauty of this double round-robin schedule. A team that got away the first time is still fair game later in the season. West Virginia's players and coaches said similar things after a 22-point loss at Kansas State and when the Wildcats visited Morgantown, the Mountaineers were able to return the favor.

The Jayhawks don't make their trip to the hills of West Virginia until March 8, but you can bet it's a date Harris and his teammates have circled on their calendars.

Huggins appears to be right there on the same page with his players.

"I just told them in there we're going to win in Morgantown," the head coach said on his radio show. "When they come back to Morgantown, we're going to win. We're going to figure out how to win."

Even last year's version of the WVU basketball team, which finished the season a miserable 13-19 with no postseason appearance, played Kansas to a five-point game at home. Perhaps there is something to this confidence Harris and Huggins spoke with Saturday night.

Currently, the focus has shifted from a game still over a month away to one creeping up in less than 48 hours.

No. 16 Iowa State is heading to the Coliseum and senior forward Melvin Ejim is coming off of Big 12 record 48 points against TCU on Saturday. That's right, Juwan Staten, the league's leading scorer is only getting better.

"Wow. That's amazing," Staten said of Ejim's performance. "Forty-eight points is amazing no matter who you're playing against … That's not really good for us if he's scoring the ball like that, but we've just got to come out and we've got to play."

And they have to forget all about this 83-69 finish in Lawrence.

Staten recalls earlier in the season when West Virginia let a winnable game against Oklahoma State slip away to a one-point loss only to turn around two days later and get shellacked by Texas in the Coliseum. The plan is to avoid a similar fate this time around.

"I think we've matured a lot since then, I think we've gotten a lot better since then and I think our mindset is different," said Staten. "Not a lot of time to think about this loss, not a lot of time to get ready for Iowa State. You've just got to play basketball."

West Virginia's brand of basketball this year has been to live and die by its guard play. Staten has had a remarkable season, but Harris and Terry Henderson can heat up as quickly as they can fizzle out. With the musical chairs of forwards in foul trouble becoming a frequent occurrence, there is no one else to rely on.

Still, there is something evident in this year's team that wasn't always apparent last year and that is the fact that this bunch goes out and plays with effort even when the results don't go the way they had hoped.

"I'm proud of them in the fact that they are playing hard," said Huggins. "They're competing and they've been very unselfish. They've been very much a team. We've got guys that have bought in. That's going to end up taking us a long way."

Huggins recalled a moment when the late University of Texas basketball coach Abe Lemons was faced with the stark reality that a Southwest Conference title was slipping from his team's grasp.

Lemons then went on his weekly television show and opened the program lying in a coffin. As the show began, he rose up, looked into the camera lens and said, "We ain't dead yet."

"We've got all kinds of opportunities to get great wins and get ourselves back where we're supposed to be," Huggins said Saturday night. "We ain't dead yet."

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