MORGANTOWN - Bob Huggins held his thumb and index finger up and said West Virginia was this close to being really good.
His team's record of late suggests that gap might be a little wider. The Mountaineers were beaten, 77-74, by Louisville on Saturday for their fifth loss in six games and third straight at home.
What if Gary Browne hadn't made a rookie mistake, trying to feed a 25-foot pass into Kevin Jones with 6 seconds left, only to have it intercepted? What if he'd taken it to the basket, where there was little chance the Cardinals were going to foul him?
"I'm tired of ifs," Huggins said. "I'm tired of if we would do this right. If we would do that right. If we wouldn't do this."
In a season full of what ifs for West Virginia (16-10 overall, 6-7 Big East) Browne's gaffe gets magnified.
"It was a bad pass," Huggins said. "It's the end of the game, they're not going to foul you. Get the ball to the basket."
It was hardly the Mountaineers' lone mistake in coughing up what had been at one juncture a 13-point lead. They fought most of the game through a rather aggressive Louisville press, missed 56 percent of their shots, allowed 10 three-pointers and missed 10 free throws.
Back to the thumb and finger, Huggins continued: "We are that far away from somebody who is supposed to switch who doesn't switch. We're that far away from somebody standing up like a man and making free throws at the end of games. We're that far away from getting rebounds.
"We didn't do the things we have to do. Our margin for error is not that great."
West Virginia, which has won just two games in the last three weeks (both in overtime), started out well against the No. 24 Cardinals, who have ripped off six consecutive victories
When Aaron Brown dropped in a 3-pointer from the wing with 3:28 left in the first half, WVU led 40-27 and the Coliseum was bursting at its seams. Louisville cut that to seven by halftime and regained its lead with 2:18 left on a steal by Wayne Blackshear and layup by Russ Smith. A pair of free throws by Chris Smith upped the margin to 75-71 before Jones cut it to one with a conventional three-point play.
That was the score when West Virginia cleared a rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Kyle Kuric, who not only led the Cardinals with 17 points, but was the man who intercepted Browne's ill-advised pass a few seconds later.
Jones accepted some of the blame for that.
"I should have just went and got the ball instead of waiting for Gary to pass it to me," he said. "That's something you just have to be aware of, especially as a senior, knowing when to get the ball. I didn't and it just ended up bad for us."
Jones led the Mountaineers with 22 points and 11 rebounds, his 17th double double of the season. Deniz Kilicli, who was on his way to a big game before getting himself in foul trouble with a technical for throwing the ball in the air, added 17 points and five rebounds. He had 15 of those points in the first half and played only 6 minutes of the second half. One game after being held scoreless, Truck Bryant added 14 points on 3 of 17 shooting. Dom Rutledge scored six points in a career-high 19 minutes played.
West Virginia's next two games are against Pitt and Notre Dame on the road. The Mountaineers lost to both teams at home.
"We have to keep on fighting," Jones. "That's the only thing that's going to keep us alive."