Bob Huggins did it at Cincinnati, sort of, and now he’s doing it at West Virginia – or, as the locals call it, Press Virginia. It’s a full-court press, and it’s giving opposing teams fits. It’s also why West Virginia (6-1) is ranked 15th in the country.
Bob Huggins’ reasoning for employing the press? Well, it’s pretty simply.
“I don’t like to lose,” the West Virginina head coach said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We had a bad year, and I didn’t think we played as hard as we normally do, and I wasn’t sure that we could win in the half-court in the Big 12. So I sought out my old friend, Kevin Mackey, and I spent some time with Kevin. This is different than what we did at Cincinnati. Cincinnati was more three-quarter court. It was a lot more zone principles. I talked to Kevin, and Kevin was was great. Actually, he was fantastic. I still bounce things off of him when I can’t figure something out.”
The press isn’t always easy to execute, but Huggins’ players like it. Even if they didn’t, though, Huggins would still make them run it.
“I don’t generally let them vote on that, Doug,” he said, inducing a chuckle from Gottlieb. “No, they like it. They really have embraced it. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work, but it also can be very rewarding. You get some easy baskets, and you really make people uncomfortable.”
West Virginia has won back-to-back games since losing to Temple the day after Thanksgiving, including a 66-57 win at No. 6 Virginia on Saturday.
A few days later, though, Huggins was unimpressed by the win, saying he hopes his guys are “past that.”
“We expect to win,” he said. “People get all hung up on playing on the road and playing before sellout crowds, and we kind of heard that going into Virginia. But (fans) can’t block a shot, they can’t make a steal, they can’t make a free throw, they can’t make a goal. So I don’t know why somebody standing there screaming at you would bother you. That’s kind of the approach that we’ve always taken with our guys: Let’s just go play. It’s still them against us. We’re not playing 14,000 people. We’re still 5-on-5.”
Huggins, who has taken two schools to the Final Four, was asked what’s harder: getting to the Final Four or winning the Big 12. After all, Kansas has won 12 straight league titles.
Personnel has a lot to do with it.
“I don’t think it’s Phog Allen (Fieldhouse),” Huggins said. “I don’t think Phog Allen has anything to do with it. I think it’s they’ve had probably – maybe next to Kentucky – more first-round picks, more draft picks, more pros. So you’re playing against great players, and by the way, the guy on the bench can coach. Sometimes you play against great players and the guy can’t coach and you think, ‘Well, maybe we got a chance.’ And then sometimes you play against a great coach and he doesn’t have great players. They continue to just reload at Kansas. They’ve got great players. They’ve got great players, and Bill (Self) does great job of coaching. To me, that’s a harder thing to beat than playing in some building.”
Huggins, 63, is closing in on history. He has 797 career wins, just three shy of 800. The milestone victory could come as early as Dec. 17, when West Virginia hosts University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Huggins knows that only because people won’t stop talking about it.
“That’s what I’m told, yeah,” he said. “I don’t look backwards. They’ve kind of made a big deal about it, so I hear a great deal here in Morgantown. But honestly I didn’t know. My wife yesterday asked me, ‘How many more wins do you need for 800?’ I said ‘I have no idea. I don’t look backwards.’”
Huggins will go for 798 this Wednesday against Western Carolina (3-5). Tip-off from the Charleston Civic Center is slated for 7 p.m. ET.