Mountaineers Enter Home Open With Focus on Multiple Facets
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins isn’t prone to looking in the rear view mirror.
A cursory check of the game film against Texas A&M, however, revealed a couple significant issues for West Virginia. First, the Mountaineers were horrid in transition defense. The Aggies rolled to 22 fast break points – a stat that is typically vastly underreported – and scored on a barrage of dunks and step-in looks as a result of penetration.
The strangest aspect of WVU’s play was that it expects to be solid in transition; it’s the bread and butter of Press Virginia, and Texas A&M exploited some defensive miscues that led to a whopping 34 points in the paint in the 88-65 setback.
“I did a really bad job of transition defense,” Huggins said. “We were horrible at transition defense and they took advantage of it. We were actually better coming out of the press than off a missed shot. When you shoot 40 threes and make 12, there’s a lot of opportunities for them to run. We have to play in transition, so for us to be bad at what we are supposed to be good at isn’t really a good sign. That’s my fault. We went over it a little bit and we assumed they knew some things they didn’t know.”
As such, it was reteaching time around the Coliseum this week as West Virginia readied for its home opener against American at 7 p.m. Wednesday. With the inability to slow the ball in transition, the Mountaineers allowed penetration, which then segued into easy passes to cutting players for lay-ins and dunks, or kick-outs for solid shots. That final statistics showed the pitfall of such a showing, A&M hitting 10 three-pointers in 19 attempts while scoring nearly at will on the blocks.
The game looked as though it would go the other way early, WVU building a 20-7 lead as it smothered Texas A&M defensively. But when the Aggies finally figured out the formula, it led to them scoring 38 of the final 56 points of the half to forge a 45-38 edge at the break. It was downhill from there as the Mountaineers fell behind by as many as 29 points with 5:24 remaining.
“We had some things that didn’t go right and then we put our heads down,” Huggins said. “We didn’t respond to it the way you need to respond to it. We got up 20-7 and really had opportunities to make a spurt and didn’t do it. We had a chance to really extend the lead and we get a traveling call in transition. We lose the ball a couple times – didn’t handle contact very well – and they played well.
“I don’t know that we will play against very many people the rest of the year who will shoot the ball like they shot the ball. We let them back in the game and we dropped our heads a little bit and didn’t handle their run as well as they handled our run.”
While that is cause for concern, there are also reasons for patience. West Virginia was without senior shooting guard Dax Miles for much of the preseason because of a thigh bruise. Add in a trio of sophomore frontcourt starters in Lamont West, Wes Harris and Sags Konate, and the experience simply isn’t there of yet.
“We’ve really only had one veteran guy back,” Huggins said. “Dax practiced less than half of the practices. With him not being there, it’s just (Jevon Carter) and it really throws a lot on J.C.’s shoulders. It’s playing a bunch of young guys or guys who haven’t been here before.”
There’s a question, then, of not only if West Virginia can slow teams in transition, but how it can generate its own offense on the interior. The Mountaineers scored 20 points in the paint versus A&M and were outrebounded 47-35, partially because of taking 40 three-pointers in 70 shots – the third-most in a single game in program history.
“Come January until whenever, it’ll be Esa,” Huggins said of where he would get his inside scoring after the return of Ahmad. “Until then I think we can put Wes in there a little bit. There isn’t any reason Sags and Magic (Bender) can’t (progress). Elijah (Macon) got better as the season went on and I think they will do the same.”
American (0-1) lost 83-45 at Kansas State last Friday. The Eagles start two freshmen at guard and come off an 8-22 season. WVU is 4-1 all-time in the series with a four-game winning streak. The last meeting came in 2010.