MORGANTOWN, W.Va — With no exhibitions before their first regular season games, Bob Huggins knew the Mountaineers would learn a lot about themselves at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic.
WVU got the job done in South Dakota, winning the tournament championship by earning three victories in three days, but the head coach of the Mountaineers saw some areas for improvement.
It might not be surprising that Huggins, who always preaches defensive intensity, wants to see progress from the Mountaineers in that category.
“Defensively, we’ve got some things to shore up, although I think from game one to game three we did a better job,” Huggins said after Friday’s win over Western Kentucky in the championship game.
The Mountaineers played solid defense down the stretch in that contest, seizing control of it with a 23-5 run that spanned more than 11 minutes in the second half. West Virginia held WKU to just two field goals during that stretch.
After shooting 51.7 percent from the field in the first half, the Hilltoppers made just 36.4 percent of their attempts in the second half, while shooting 2-11 from 3-point range. They also went 6-8 from the free throw line in the game, compared to West Virginia’s 15-19 mark.
Huggins thought one of the keys to victory for WVU in that game was intensity. He said the Mountaineers seemed flat in the first half — and he let them know about it at halftime.
“I didn’t think that we met their aggression in the first half,” Huggins said. “I thought we did a much, much better job in the second half.”
With the start of Big 12 play a few weeks away, Huggins said he’ll also continue to give minutes to deserving freshmen and newcomers. Redshirt freshman Jalen Bridges and true freshman Isaiah Cottrell each appeared in all three contests in South Dakota, while transfer guard Kedrian Johnson played in two games and freshman forward Taj Thweatt played in one.
Huggins wants to give more opportunities to these players in order to get them more comfortable before league play starts in December.
“The games ended up being closer than what we’d really like them to be, but we’ve gotta get some of those other guys in the game little bit more, just so they can help us when we really need them to come in and help us and play big minutes when we need them to play big minutes,” Huggins said.
Before Big 12 play opens Dec. 18 at home against Iowa State, the Mountaineers will have a massive test coming up this week. WVU is scheduled to play Gonzaga Wednesday in the Jimmy V Classic in Indianapolis.