Saturday left a bittersweet taste in the mouth of Mountaineer fans.
The day began with the unveiling of the statue in commemoration of WVU legend Hot Rod Hundley. A crowd gathered outside the blue gate at the front of the Coliseum over half an hour before the press conference, led by the voice of the Mountaineers Tony Caridi, began at 2 p.m.
Fans gathered in large numbers early trying to get a good spot for when the tarp that once covered the bronze statue was removed. Those in attendance not only witnessed the unveiling of the statue, but also got to watch as head coach Bob Huggins, WVU benefactor and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick, and WVU legend Jerry West take to the podium to talk of Hundley.
Hundley’s daughter, Kimberly, also spoke of her father and what he meant to the city of Morgantown.
Hundley and his patented hook shot will now forever be immortalized along side his fellow teammate West, whose statue was put in front of the Coliseum in 2007.
As for the game, the Mountaineers couldn’t get the job done, losing 76-62 for their second-straight loss.
After having a day to digest and look back on the game, here are my takeaways:
It’s clear which teams will potentially give WVU troubles after the regular season
Oddly enough, each two-game losing streak that the Mountaineers have endured this season has included both Oklahoma and Texas. In both instances, the first loss came on the road and then second came the next time out at home.
The Longhorns and Sooners may be the two teams in the Big 12 that matchup the best with WVU.
Both teams have very talented guards in Buddy Hield and Isaiah Taylor, as well as post players that are physical enough to battle with the likes of West Virginia’s Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton.
Oklahoma and Texas also do things defensively to disrupt the Mountaineer offensive attack. The Longhorns apply similar pressure to the Mountaineers, and the Sooners are disciplined enough and rebound well enough to not let WVU get second- and third-opportunity looks at the basket.
Buddy Hield is the best player in the country
There is no debate about it. LSU’s Ben Simmons is good, but no college player in the country is playing on the same level as Buddy Hield.
Hield scored 29 points Saturday against the Mountaineers and made it look effortless.
Watching from Section 62 inside the Coliseum, I looked up late in the first half only to realize that Hield had already scored 13 points when it felt like he’s only made enough shots to total half of that. That’s partly because he knocked down three 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes.
Not only did he make five 3’s in Saturday’s game, but it seemed that Hield that became a better shooter with a hand in his face.
Hield, the nation’s second-leading scorer, is averaging 25.4 points per game this year, and scored above his season average for the thirteenth time this season.
If you’ve seen him play this year, you understand why I don’t need to make much of a case for it. If you haven’t seen him play, I highly recommend that you watch the next time Oklahoma is on TV.
The dude can play!
The best player for WVU doesn’t start
With WVU’s leading scorer Jaysean Paige nursing a sore ankle, and one of the Mountaineers best 3-point shooters in Daxter Miles Jr. sidelined with a hamstring injury, Saturday was a perfect opportunity for one of the other WVU starters to have a big game.
It didn’t happen.
Devin Williams scored 10 points but only pulled down 10 rebounds, Jevon Carter managed just four points and three assists, and freshman Esa Ahmad once again supplied just one basket, the fifteenth game this season in which the Cleveland native has made one or fewer shots from the floor.
The bench supplied most of the scoring.
This isn’t the first time this season where the bench has done a large portion of the damage for the Mountaineers, either.
Paige is the team’s top scorer for a reason. He’s a spark off the bench, and a player that knows how to drive to the basket, get to the foul line, and can also shoot from distance.
Phillip has turned into a scoring threat this season, and continues to play good defense.
Paige, in my opinion, is the best sixth-man in the country. He is also the best all around player on this Press Virginia team. Phillip isn’t far behind him, and as a junior, still has plenty of time to become an even better player than he already is.
Now, this isn’t a call for a change in the starting rotation, nor is it a slight directed at Carter, Williams, or any of the regular starters. I love the spark that Paige and Phillip provide off the bench, and hope nothing with the lineup or rotation changes.
But, it’s the truth. The best player doesn’t start. They both come off the bench.
Nathan Adrian has improved
Anyone who has listened to me talk about WVU over the past few years knows my personal opinion about Nathan Adrian‘s playing ability
However, I must admit, he has looked much better over the past few games for the Mountaineers.
It may be a mentality thing, but Adrian does seem to play better when he’s in the starting lineup.
That hasn’t been more evident than it was during the early portion of the second half Saturday.
Over a few possession stretch, which lasted between two and three minutes of game time, I watched the Morgantown native play the best on-ball defense I’ve seen him play all year.
He kept the ball handler in front of him, not allowing the offensive player to blow past him, and more importantly he didn’t commit a foul.
The most impressive part of it all, was who he was guarding during the stretch.
Adrian wasn’t guarding a big not looking to drive from the top of the key, he was guarding the likes of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard at or above the top of the key.
I’ll give credit where credit is due. Good job Adrian. Keep it up.
Saturday wasn’t as fulfilling of a day as Mountaineer fans would’ve liked, but even with the team’s second loss in a row, there are still a lot of good things going for the Mountaineers.
The only bad news is that it doesn’t get any easier. Monday night West Virginia hosts the Iowa State Cyclones at 9 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.