West Virginia basketball needs better effort on defensive end

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins didn’t even attempt beat around the bush when it came to his team’s defense in an 85-80 loss to Florida.

“Defense to a large degree is about heart. It’s about competing and when you don’t compete you get exposed. We got exposed. We have been getting exposed,” he said.

That was especially true in the second half when the Gators scored 48 points and finished at a stellar 1.333 points per possession. The Mountaineers permitted Florida to hit 16-29 from the field and hit 7 of their 8 three-point attempts in the game over the final 20-minutes.

If you take out the eight turnovers by Florida in the second half, the Gators were at an insane 1.714 points per shooting attempt over the final 20-minutes of the game.

It allowed the visitors to erase a five-point half-time deficit and send the Mountaineers to their first loss since the program was off two-weeks due to COVID-19 issues. And Huggins attributes the effort on that end as what allowed the Gators to get started in order to pull off the road win.

“We got a ball on the floor; we’ve got guys standing there and they’ve got two guys diving at it. Not going to win like that,” Huggins said. “Possessions in hard games, and this was a hard game, but we’re going to play hard games the rest of the way, our league is about hard games. We’ve got guys that just didn’t respond today. Didn’t respond to it being hard.”

Part of the issue was how easily the Gators were able to get to the ball to the middle of the floor both for shots at the rim and step in three-pointers. Out of the seven tries that the Florida made, many of them were of the wide open variety which is obviously less than ideal.

“We had guys to start the second half where their man had wide-open step in shots. Step-in shots are horse shots. That’s what you do when you play horse, you step into a shot. I tell our guys we have to get more step-in shots and less shots off the bounce. Think about the start of the second half how many step-in shots they got without any resistance, without any pressure, without anything,” Huggins said.

Junior forward Derek Culver didn’t disagree.

“We just have to keep teams out of the middle. Kind of lackadaisical. Not playing to the best of our abilities, we’re just letting teams get into their sets. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and fix it,” he said. “We’re that confident in our defense. It’s just missed assignments here and there but those add up after a while.”

It was the first time since 2019 that the Mountaineers had given up 80-points in back-to-back games and with 11 Big 12 Conference games left, the onus will be on correcting things at that end.

Breakdowns will happen, but Huggins wants to see his team find that competitive spark on that end of the floor in order to get back on track. Effort will be critical and the challenge for the Mountaineers will be to correct things on the defensive end of the floor moving ahead.

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