Mountaineers Flash Motor, Snap Streak
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – That energy concern of head coach Bob Huggins can probably be dismissed in terms of the 89-51 win over Kansas State.
West Virginia harried, harassed and overwhelmed the Wildcats in a performance every bit as dominating as the blowout win over Texas two weeks ago. It was what transpired during the fortnight in between that was cause for concern. Besides a difficult road loss to TCU and the lost 17-point second half lead versus Kentucky, the Mountaineers had gone on the road and absolutely struggled across the board in a shocking 93-77 defeat to an Iowa State team challenging for low status in the Big 12.
It seemed to just about snuff out any chance WVU had to win the conference’s regular season crown. Add in the flu that ran rampant through the team – and for which Huggins blamed the lack of energy against the Cyclones – and the season seemed on the brink. It wasn’t for nothing that many pundits and fans alike were calling Kansas State a near must-win, both to stay within a game or two of Kansas in the league race and for psychological reasons. Lose this one, and that streak could extend more than a week-plus into February with the looming road game at No. 12 Oklahoma on yet another quick Monday turnaround.
But up against it, West Virginia showed its mettle, both physically and mentally, in besting a hot Kansas State team in every facet. Perhaps the most uplifting part of the victory was that the Mountaineers showed a sense of pride and perseverance themselves while displaying a willingness to adjust away from what wasn’t working in pure Press Virginia in using a new zone defense installed recently.
“I was concerned about not having enough energy to play, to press,” Huggins said. “I wanted to be able to change things up, that’s all.”
The defensive switch worked as Kansas State had two six-plus minute stretches sans a field goal while also being outscored 20-4 over the last four minutes of the rout. WVU also adjusted its offense, Huggins noting the coaching staff didn’t think the team was attacking directly enough. There were fewer drives to the rim, less entry passes into the post to get Sags Konate nearly enough touches.
There was also a plethora of passing around the perimeter, the tendency to stand with the ball, to show hesitation in the offense which allowed the defenses the needed time to adjust and reset. It bogged down the whole flow and led to simply trying a machine-gun approach from three-point range that was just about as accurate. The trend wasn’t turned, but totally reversed against Kansas State as the Mountaineers shot 54.9 percent, including 60.9 percent in the second half.
“We changed some things,” Huggins said. “Larry (Harrison, the associate head coach) changed some things. We weren’t playing downhill. We were playing lateral. Honestly, I had so many guys sick that I really couldn’t practice. We talked about it. We looked at it on film. We went out and dummied through it, but we didn’t go live,”
Until the game day lights came on. Then so did West Virginia, feeding on a frenzy of good looks and excellent opportunities that led to, get this, a complete flip of fortunes. Where WVU was the team allowing 50-plus points in two of their last three halves of basketball, the Mountaineers scored 50 in the second half against Kansas State. It also led for 38:42 of the contest, or nearly start to finish. And there were fewer periods of stagnation while the team showed an unexpected energy level.
“Beetle came in yesterday pretty much straight out of the hospital and said ‘Coach, I can go.’ He came in and said he wanted to play, which is really good. I’m still worried about having energy on Monday.”
But that’s for another day. On this one, the Mountaineers impressed, just in time to get within a game of Kansas, who shockingly lost for a third time at home this season in falling to Oklahoma State. Now the two teams sit just one game apart, and still have a second series meeting set for Feb. 17 in Allen Fieldhouse. All in all, it was a pretty solid day for the Mountaineers, who haven’t seen many of those in recent weeks.
“I thought our pressure was really good,” Huggins said. “The biggest thing is we kept them between us and the basket. We’ve been turning everyone lose at the rim. You know, we kinda backed it off at the end. I was trying to save people’s legs.”
And in doing so, found some to stand on of their own, for at least another day.