PITTSBURGH - In the end, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said, the inexperience was much too much.
''We just had too many of them,'' Huggins said, speaking of the eight freshmen and/or first-year players the Mountaineers started the season with.
They wound up losing nine of their last 13 games and 14 overall, the most losses by a Huggins team since 1990 when he was at Cincinnati.
Bob Huggins could only watch the mess unfold Thursday night against Gonzaga.
Some of it, he said, was to be expected.
''I tell you guys all the time, you know, we want to be better,'' Huggins said. ''But Joe Mazzula wasn't any good when he was a freshman. Alex Ruoff, you wouldn't have wanted to put him in the game. They made themselves into very good players. It's 18-year-old kids playing against men in a lot of instances.
''Those 18-year-old kids, very rarely do they fare well unless they're exceptional, exceptional players. Obviously, our guys aren't exceptional players. We hope the Jabarie Hinds and Gary Brownes of the world turn themselves into players like those other guys did.''
Minutes earlier, Huggins had an emotional moment with seniors Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones, each members of the coach's first recruiting class back at his alma mater. He thought about what Jones was then, and what he is today.
''Nobody ever thought he'd be what he (became),'' Huggins said. ''He turned himself into a good player. I've been fortunate over the years to have guys do that.''
So what did the Mountaineers get out of this robust class of newcomers, which included junior college transfer Dom Rutledge and might as well have counted redshirt freshman Kevin Noreen, who had played all of 39 minutes of college basketball?
Not a whole lot.
Hinds started every game, showed flashes of immense talent, but wound up with numbers that won't turn any heads - 7.4 points per game, 108 assists. Browne averaged 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds, but neither player shot as well as 44 percent from the field. Next on the minutes played list was Aaron Brown, who contributed 4.2 points and 38 percent shooting while committing more turnovers than offering up assists. Noreen, who was helping the offense run considerably better, was injured again in Game 23 and never played again. Pat Forsythe, a 6-foot-11 freshman, was injured after seven games and never returned.
That meant extended playing time for Rutledge, who began the season as the team's fifth 'big.' He showed plenty of athleticism when he was called upon and led the Mountaineers with six rebounds Thursday night against Gonzaga, but these injuries prevented Huggins from using the bench as a motivator. He had no one left to bring in.
Keaton Miles started 30 of 32 games but rarely lasted until the first media timeout and averaged 13.1 minutes per game. Walk-on Paul Williamson hit 7 of 17 3-pointers, but otherwise played a total of 92 minutes. Tommie McCune left the team prior to the tournament.
They weren't much better, if at all, on the defensive end.
''This is the worst defensive team I've ever had in 30 years,'' Huggins said. ''We don't get the help, we don't get the loose balls. We don't do the things we've done for years and years.''
Perhaps in time, they will.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org