Recovering Mountaineers Face Quick Turnaround
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Losing five out of six teams does funny things to a team.
In the case of West Virginia, it sent them back to the drawing board to put something together for the stretch run as they try not only to win the Big 12 championship but put themselves in position for a good draw in the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountaineers recast both their offense and defense while, at the same time, battling through the flu bug that had made its way through the WVU locker room, striking no fewer than six of the 13 scholarship players.
Fighting through that on Saturday afternoon, they rediscovered themselves to put on one of their top performances of the year, running over, around and through a Kansas State team that looked like it had been put together by pulling students’ names out of a hat, the result being an 89-51 WVU victory.
But there was no time to celebrate, for this was another of those nasty Saturday/Monday turnarounds with WVU having to travel to Oklahoma for a 9 p.m. ESPN game against an angry group of Sooners who were upset Saturday by their arch rivals from Texas while Trae Young, the nation’s leader in scoring and assists, suffered through a sub-par shooting game and netted “only” 19 points.
Young was just 2-for-14 from 3, but did have 14 assists.
WVU is playing its third Saturday/Monday turnaround in four weeks and has two more ahead of it, while the Sooners are facing just their first of the season.
It is something that the league must address, for it puts WVU as a competitive disadvantage, having the longest travel in the conference and the only team that has to mess with changing time zones.
The Mountaineers, in fact, have never won a road Monday game after a home Saturday contest and it will be even more difficult this time as they battle health issues.
“I’m really worried if we will have any legs,” coach Bob Huggins admitted.
He also has to worry about being at the Lloyd Noble Center, where his team last year was the last to win there, the Sooners beating the last 14 visiting teams to come in.
The positive is that WVU made alterations both on offense and defense, being quite secretive about its defensive changes, which will give the Sooners something new to think about.
And just what did WVU unveil defensively in the second half?
No one is saying, although it looked like it might have been some form of match up zone with elements of the point drop where the point guard drops down almost to the baseline.
Beetle Bolden, who made his first career start in place of the recovering Daxter Miles Jr., while fighting off the flu himself and had a 13-point game, just sort of smiled sheepishly when asked about the defense and said:
“I can’t really say too much about it. It’s a secret. It looks like a zone and that’s what we want people to think.”
Teddy Allen, who also found his touch again against Kansas State for 12 points, took the same route as Bolden when asked about it.
“It’s a secret. I can’t tell you. We’re probably going to use it again,” he said.
And center Sagaba Konate, coming off a 19-point, nine-rebound performance, admitted it was something new.
“It was a lot of energy and a lot of ball pressure,” he said. “We never knew when the coaches were going to use it. We had to be prepared for it. I like it. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to play.”
The defense was used in the second half and K-State scored only 21 points in the final 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the offense got a new look, too.
“We changed some things,” Huggins divulged. “Actually, (assistant) Larry Harrison changed some things. We weren’t playing downhill. We were playing lateral.
“Honestly, I had so many guys sick that we couldn’t really practice so we talked about it. We looked at it on film. We kind of went out and dummied through it, but we didn’t go live for two days. It was a two-day prep and we didn’t go live at any point in time for two days.”
The result was a night on which WVU shot 54.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from 3.
While the change had nothing to do with the free throw shooting, WVU made 23 of 24 for 95.8 percent from the line, a school record for a game where they took more than 13 free throws.
The final fix was made rebounding.
“We’ve watched us not block out on tape,” Huggins said. “We’ve hammered it in drills and those things. We’re doing a better job of blocking out. I think the biggest thing is we kept them between us and the basket.
“We’ve been turning everyone loose to the rim. It’s hard when they are there closer to the basket than you are. I think it was us more being able to stay in front of people.”
But Oklahoma is not Kansas State. The Sooners are tied with WVU for third in the conference, a game behind Kansas and Texas Tech and with a home victory over OU, WVU could grab the tiebreaker with them by sweeping the season series.