Bob Huggins has some solid individual talent on his West Virginia roster, but the veteran coach believes his players are at their best when able to play together as a team.
The 10th-ranked Mountaineers look to get back to playing team basketball and rebound from their first Big East loss while trying for a sixth straight victory over host South Florida on Wednesday night.
West Virginia (12-2, 3-1) rallied from a 22-point, second-half deficit Saturday, but the comeback fell short when Da’Sean Butler missed a shot at the buzzer and the Mountaineers lost 70-68 at Notre Dame. Both West Virginia defeats have come in Indiana, where it also lost 77-62 at then-No. 4 Purdue on New Year’s Day.
Huggins was unhappy with his team’s overall play against the Irish, but apparently more disappointed with some individual performances.
Butler, averaging a team-leading 16.2 points and shooting 45.5 percent, had 13 and shot 4 of 20. Star sophomore Devin Ebanks (12.0 ppg, 8.0 rebounds per game) was held scoreless with three rebounds and played only three minutes in the second half after Huggins shuffled his lineup.
“Individually we’re not very good. Now we can be pretty good collectively,” Huggins told the school’s official Web site. “We just don’t have guys that can make plays off the bounce.”
Sophomore forward Kevin Jones had a team-leading 17 points and 10 boards, but West Virginia shot 37.5 percent and trailed by 20 at the half.
“We lose by 20 or we lose by two, what’s the difference?” Huggins said. “At the end of the day you don’t win championships and you don’t hang banners by losing. That’s the bottom line.
A visit to South Florida (10-5, 0-3) could help the Mountaineers bounce back and prove to their coach that they have the makeup to be successful a team.
“They create a lot of matchup problems and those are things we need to overcome,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said.
Since the Bulls won 80-71 in the teams’ initial contest Dec. 10, 1977, West Virginia has won the last five meetings - all since South Florida joined the Big East.
Darryl Bryant scored 13 points and Ebanks added 10 with seven rebounds and five assists in the Moutaineers’ 64-50 win at South Florida on March 1, 2009. Butler is averaging 15.8 points and 8.5 boards in four career games against the Bulls.
After opening league play with losses to Louisville and Notre Dame, South Florida fell 82-65 at then-No. 7 Syracuse on Sunday. The Bulls are 11-60 in the conference since joining the Big East in 2005-06.
“We need a win and wins are not easy to come by in this league,” said Heath, whose team shot 40.0 percent and committed 16 turnovers against the Orange.
Despite the Bulls’ recent struggles, West Virginia still must contain junior guard Dominique Jones, who ranks among the conference leaders with 18.9 points per game. He had a season-high 30 against Syracuse.
Jones is averaging 21.3 points in three career games against the Mountaineers. He had 35 in a 62-59 loss at West Virginia on Jan. 17.
The Bulls continue to miss 6-10 center Augustus Gilchrist (18.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), who’s been out since early December with a sprained ankle. There’s no timetable for his return.
“We’re a little shorthanded,” Jones said. “We just have to play hard and try to hold on (until Gilchrist) comes back. I promise you we’ll look like a whole different team then.”
South Florida has dropped its last two games against Top 25 opponents after beating then-No. 8 Marquette 57-56 on Feb. 6.