Move To Zone Proves Productive For Mountaineers

West Virginia guard Chase Harler (14) fights through an illegal screen from Pitt's Peace Ilegomah as MAciej Bender (42) moves in to help

Move To Zone Proves Productive For Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It wasn’t that West Virginia directly planned to use the 1-3-1 zone against Pitt.

But when things went south, both in terms of the ability to slow the Panthers in man sets and the severe foul trouble faced with 11 minutes to play, head coach Bob Huggins went right back to what had worked in the first half.

The initial look, which WVU went to with seven minutes left in the opening period, saw Lamont West along the top, with Jevon Carter and Dax Miles at the wings and Magic Bender in the middle. Chase Harler worked the 50 feet along the baseline. The Mountaineers led 29-18 at that point and would score nine straight points by forcing Pitt into a bad three-pointer and two turnovers on the first three possessions versus the set.

The Panthers were befuddled initially, content in passing the ball along the arc, allowing West Virginia to simply slide and flash to the ball in adjustment. The poor three was followed by a late dump down pass onto the blocks that was deflected by Bender for a turnover. Harler then picked off an errant pass on the next trip. The Mountaineers scored at the other end every time, meaning Pitt had three terrible offensive sets, allowed nine opposing points and was facing a 38-18 deficit.

West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate rejects a Pitt shot

Head coach Kevin Stallings had seen enough, and called timeout to regroup. Pitt was getting zero rotation on the floor and failing to pass across the defense instead of around the arc, or attack open areas off the dribble. It caused their biggest deficit of the night, and one West Virginia would later need to absorb the blows of a comeback attempt.

“Coach called that and it started working,” West said. “We work on all our defenses for whoever, so it wasn’t like we were going to play 1-3-1 against them. It was just if you man wasn’t working we had to go 1-3-1.”

The circumstances were different in the second half. This wasn’t about testing Pitt’s ability to attack the look, but rather – as Huggins pointed out – mere survival. With Carter, Miles, Wes Harris and Sags Konate mired in foul trouble, Huggins went to the 1-3-1 to protect his starters against isolations in man. WVU led 54-39 with 14:30 left when the look was first tried in the second half, and Pitt dissected it well and, via a series of passes, got a nice lay-in.

Carter was then slapped with his fourth foul on the next West Virginia possession, and it would snowball from there as Miles picked up his fourth with 11 minutes remaining. At that point, with three starters on the bench, Huggins went back to man. But sans Carter, Pitt was far more able to run their sets by passing out of the point, and the Panthers would claw back to get within 56-53 on a 14-2 run before WVU reinserted Carter, Miles and Harris.

The Mountaineers immediately went back to the 1-3-1, this time protecting Carter by moving him off the wing and putting him in Harler’s spot along the back line. Harris manned the other wing slot opposite Miles.

In all, Pitt had five possessions with one point in the first half against the 1-3-1, and the look proved productive in the latter stages of the game as well, with West Virginia limiting its rival to just

“Rotating. Just rotating when the ball gets skipped,” Bolden said of the toughest aspect of the zone. “That’s the hardest part. Sprinting out there and getting to the next corner when going from one corner to another. Getting out there and putting pressure on the ball when the ball gets there and contesting their threes when they got there. All the ones I contested I think I did a pretty good job and they missed on those open shots.”

In all, Pitt had 12 possessions over the final 9:12 once it got within 56-53. The Panthers scored just seven points – with four coming on one three-pointer and the resulting free throw – while making just two of their final nine shots. Pitt came up empty on nine of the 12 trips, getting only the four-point play, a putback lay-in and a single free throw. West Virginia’s 1-3-1 forced a barrage of three points, seven in all, and Pitt missed six.

The Panthers basically couldn’t get the ball in close for solid looks, something they were doing against the man set. That also kept WVU from having to foul, as the Mountaineers were more than happy to allow Pitt to fire away from deep with often-contested or rushed looks. Perhaps the most jarring statistic? Over the final eight possessions, when Pitt was as close as 61-59 with 5:30 remaining, it managed just one point, going 0-for-5 shooting, all three-pointers, while turning it over once and being called for charging on the next-to-last trip.

That effectively ended the game, Stallings choosing not to foul as West Virginia ran clock on its last two trips leading by the 69-60 final margin.

“We had to stick to the game plan we originally had, which was that they were making a run and we had to keep playing hard and stay focused,” West said. “We had to handle the run.”