West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins has every right to be frustrated.
His team surrendered a double-digit lead. Again. That’s been a common theme during much of the past month and this season (WVU is minus-92 in the second half during its eight losses this season).
WVU led by as many as 12 points in the second half at Kansas on Saturday evening, but it let the lead slip away and lost 77-69, pretty much ending its hopes at a Big 12 regular season title.
But the part that drove Huggins wild was the glaring free throw disparity. He was ejected with eight seconds left. He had enough. Kansas shot 35 free throws on its home court.
How many did WVU shoot? Two. That’s a 35-2 difference.
Thirty-three less free throws.
"I’ve been doing this 40 years," Huggins said. "I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where we shot two free throws. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where the disparity was 35-2. I’ve never been in a game like that."
There were a number of bad calls. WVU received the short end of the stick sometimes. But that’s also not to say that Kansas did not receive the short end of the stick either.
On one play, a WVU make, sophomore forward Sagaba Konate touched the rim while the ball was going through the net. Per rules, that’s basket interference. However, there was no call.
Now that’s not to say that the officiating was perfect. It wasn’t. And Huggins wished the refs could have answered some questions after the game, just like he has to. And just like his players have to, regardless of the final outcome.
"Officials want to be a part of the game, but they don’t want to be a part of the game that has to answer," Huggins told a reporter at his postgame press conference. "Why aren’t they in here, answering your questions. We’re going to bring 19-21 year old kids in here that don’t get paid. You’re going to ask Dax (WVU senior guard Daxter Miles Jr.) ‘why didn’t you shoot it?’ Because (the referees) don’t want to get asked ‘why didn’t you call this? Why didn’t you call that?’"
Bob Huggins, ladies and gentlemen."Why aren't [the referees] in here answering your questions? We're gonna bring 19-21 year olds in here who don't get paid and you're gonna ask them questions... because [the referees] don't want to get asked 'why didn't you call this?'" pic.twitter.com/3SFTOnUpbS— Tom Martin (@TomKCTV5) February 18, 2018
Huggins has a point. Officials should be able to answer questions. They are a part of the game. They are the ones that called all of the fouls that led to Kansas shooting 35 free throws and WVU only two. Maybe their answers would help alleviate some of the issues and provide good answers as to why.
I am never one to solely blame officials after the game. They aren’t the only ones on the court. There are coaches, head and assistants. There are players (five starters and those that come off the bench). In my opinion, everyone is involved in some way shape or form.
Now can some be more to blame than others? Of course. But, again, I am never one to place all the blame on the officials. They are not the only ones participating.
WVU is also a team that commits more fouls. It plays a relentless, fullcourt defense known as "Press Virginia." It is more hands-on and in your face than most other defenses in all of basketball.
Kansas is called for only 15.5 fouls per game, which is tied for the 18th-fewest in the country. Meanwhile, WVU commits 20.9 per game, which is tied for No. 324 nationally. That’s a pretty big difference in rankings and numbers.
WVU was called for 26 fouls, 5.1 more than it averages. Kansas was called for 14, 1.5 less than its average.
"They fouled a whole lot more than what got called," said Kansas senior guard Devonte’ Graham.
Besides the big free throw disparity, WVU faltered down the stretch. Miles hit a big 3 to put WVU up 58-46, helping the Mountaineers be at a 9-for-15 shooting mark in the second half.
After that, WVU made just four of its final 17 attempts. It committed careless turnovers, and it finished with seven giveaways in the second half and 13 altogether. Kansas committed four in the second half and eight total.
One of those was from Miles. With WVU down 68-66 in the closing moments, he had a chance to tie the game or take the lead depending on what he wanted to do. Sophomore forward Wesley Harris picked up a big offensive rebound and fired a pass back to Miles, who was at the 3-point line. Miles jumped up, but instead of shooting, fired a pass towards junior forward Esa Ahmad near the rim.
Turnover. Foul. Two free throws. Kansas goes up four at 70-66. Game.
Now that’s not to say Miles was solely to blame either. That was a bad play. However, he also played a terrific game, despite that turnover and the four he committed on the evening.
Miles finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He hit a career-high six 3s. He did nearly everything he could.
Miles knows he made a mistake near the end. According to Allan Taylor of the West Virginia MetroNews, "Miles was in tears outside of the WVU locker room" and said, "I put this loss on me."
He can think he was to blame for the loss. He committed a critical turnover near the end. He also played a great game, so he is not the only one that contributed to the loss.
The officiating was not perfect. The free throw disparity was huge (35-2), but WVU’s offense also faltered down the stretch.
There are a lot of people that contribute to these games. Coaches. Officials. The officiating was not perfect like I just mentioned, however, it was not the only reason WVU squandered a double-digit lead in the second half.