By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A text message early in the day Wednesday got Bob Huggins’ mind going in the right direction, and the West Virginia University men’s basketball coach used it to help get his team’s mind and attitude moving in the right direction for its first Big 12 victory ever — at Texas on Wednesday night.
“Our old buddy Joe Roberts texted me today,” Huggins revealed following a thrilling 57-53 overtime victory. “At Cincinnati one year we struggled a little out of the gate. What I just kept saying to them was, ‘Fellas, we have to find a way. We’ve just gotta find a way.’
“Well, we had a custodian that loved the team,” Huggins continued. “He went into the wood shop and made a big sign that said ‘FIND A WAY’ and painted it all up and everything, and when everyone walked out they hit that sign.”
Things began to turn around for the Cincinnati team.
“Joe decided if it works at home it ought to work on the road, so they packed it up and took it with us,” Huggins said, inferring it did work. “Today, I told the guys that story, and when I walked in the locker room they were all screaming at me, ‘Coach, we’re gonna get to that ball now.’”
And they did.
Oh, they didn’t play great. That has to come later. The shooting was atrocious.
“It’s one game and we’ve got a whole bunch of hard ones left, but if we play with that kind of enthusiasm and intensity, we’re going to be fine,” Huggins said.
See, what happened in this game is Huggins reclaimed his team.
He has a way of playing the game, it’s his way and his way only, and he made it happen in a lot of ways Wednesday night.
“Hopefully this kind of gets us back to being my team,” Huggins said. “They really weren’t my team before, because we didn’t compete the way we needed to compete. I thought they really competed hard today.”
It began with the starting lineup, Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray on the bench while Kevin Noreen and Dominique Rutledge started, each adding a different dimension, a new kind of enthusiasm.
“I didn’t start Deniz and Aaric Murray because they were less than stellar down the stretch against Oklahoma, and I didn’t think they competed the way they needed to compete,” he explained. “To their credit, I think they responded today.”
And, down the stretch, they helped out greatly.
“I think people may now realize why we need Deniz in the game against zones. He just occupies and occupies. Eron Harris doesn’t get the shot if Deniz isn’t in the game,” Huggins said of the 3-point shot Harris hit that led the game into overtime.
And in overtime Murray made a key steal of a crosscourt pass to cinch the victory.
“This is what I’m accustomed to seeing. I wasn’t accustomed to seeing the other stuff. We were able to change defenses today. Everyone was in the right place. Everyone was into doing the right thing. We played three different defenses today,” Huggins said.
Of course, Noreen was a huge factor with 13 rebounds, four on the offensive glass, and hitting a key 3-point shot that ignited the rally that sent the game into overtime.
“You gotta love him. He battles. He’s all over the place,” Huggins said.
There was another twist that added to Huggins’ ability to recapture his team as point guard Juwan Staten was buried on the bench in the second half.
When asked about it, Huggins was honest and forthcoming.
“It’s my team — it’s not his,” Huggins said. “We talk about being on the same page; well, I wrote the book. He’s going to be on the same page as everybody else or he’s going to continue sitting over there. That may be too blunt, but it’s honest.
“When everybody bands together, you can win. He’s had a good start of the year for us in a lot of areas. But here’s what it is; we’re gonna all get out in the boat and we’re going to learn to row in the same direction and those of you who don’t row in the same direction, we’re going to throw you out of the boat.
“There’s a lot to that. If one guy is not rowing in the right direction, we’re going to have a hard time getting there.”
In this case, Huggins was on Staten about something he had done and as Staten went by the bench he made a gesture at the coach.
That ended his evening.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@bhertzel.