Twenty minutes after he was ejected from his team’s 77-69 loss at Kansas for angrily protesting a key no-call in the final minute, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins arrived at his postgame press conference still fuming.
Someone asked Huggins how he would explain his team squandering a 12-point second-half lead. He chuckled wryly and noted that the 35-2 discrepancy in free throws attempted might have contributed to the Mountaineers’ collapse.
“You don’t think that had anything to do with it?” Huggins said.
“I’ve been doing this 40 years. 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.”
Huggins was upset with the officiating a few times during Kansas’ comeback, but the sequence that made him irate occurred with less than 20 seconds remaining and West Virginia trailing by four. Daxter Miles attacked the rim and appeared to draw contact from Kansas center Udoka Azubuike, but none of the referees blew their whistle. Azubuike was credited with a clean block and Malik Newman finished the play with a game-clinching layup.
With a winnable game now out of reach, Huggins lost his cool. He lashed out first at referee John Higgins and then at referee Jamie Luckie, resulting in back-to-back technicals to the delight of the Kansas crowd.
Bob Huggins was not happy pic.twitter.com/8m8wYvdrDV
— FOX College Hoops (@CBBonFOX) February 18, 2018
Asked after the game if he brought up the disparity in free throws during his on-court tirade, Huggins admitted that he did. Asked how he would characterize the response from Luckie and Higgins, Huggins said, “There was none.”
It’s safe to say West Virginia didn’t get a favorable whistle on Saturday night, but the foul discrepancy going against the Mountaineers is nothing new. They’re typically among college basketball’s most foul-plagued teams because they aggressively trap and press on defense. They also had a hard time drawing fouls on Saturday night in particular because nearly half the shots they attempted were 3-pointers.
When Huggins goes back and watches the game film, he’ll see the foul discrepancy wasn’t the primary reason the Mountaineers blew a double-digit lead against Kansas for the third time in two seasons. West Virginia lost Saturday mostly because it got too conservative with the lead and then made some costly mistakes down the stretch.
The first error West Virginia made was Huggins’ decision to try to burn clock with his team ahead by double figures and eight minutes to play. Huggins was trying to avoid another turnover-fueled meltdown like the Mountaineers had last year at Allen Fieldhouse, but West Virginia didn’t start running offense until late in the shot clock and struggled to generate good looks at the basket.
Miles also made two key turnovers in the final 90 seconds with West Virginia still within two. He first passed up a wide-open 3-point attempt to try to thread a pass through traffic and then he also threw an ill-advised cross-court pass that Azubuike easily snagged out of mid-air.
Huggins fielded questions about all that after the game, but his responses kept coming back to the officiating.
“Officials want to be part of the game, but they don’t want to be part of the game that has to answer,” Huggins said. “Why aren’t they in here answering your questions? We’re going to bring 19 and 21-year-old kids in here that don’t get paid and you’re going to ask them questions. You’re going to ask [Miles] ‘Why didn’t you shoot it?’ They don’t want to get asked why didn’t you call this, why didn’t you call that.”
Kansas’ comeback could prove critical to its bid to win at least a share of a 14th consecutive Big 12 title. The Jayhawks are now tied for first place in the league with Texas Tech after the Raiders fell 59-57 at Baylor on Saturday night.
Other Big 12 coaches have long suggested that Kansas gets a favorable whistle at home and that has contributed to their conference championship streak, but Huggins disagreed with that notion. He said it was his team’s fault the previous year for blowing a late lead at Allen Fieldhouse. He also expressed skepticism that Higgins and Luckie — two referees with Final Four experience — would be intimidated by the Kansas crowd.
“You’re talking about guys who have done a bunch of Final Fours,” Huggins said. “I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”
It’s Huggins’ position that West Virginia just got a bad whistle on this night, and he felt he owed it to his players to stand up for them.
Watch video of Bob Huggins’ full postgame press conference:
— Matt Scott (@KUTheShiver) February 18, 2018
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