Snubbed Schedule Motivates Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia found the fuel for its fire prior to beating No. 15 Virginia on Tuesday.
The No. 18 Mountaineers were spurred by a piece of writing that called out the team’s schedule to this point, one that ranked 45th entering according to RealTimeRPI.com and has featured the likes of Missouri, Texas A&M and a solid Long Beach State program. That served to provide extra focus when readying for the Cavaliers’ cutting, screening offense that values possession time and high-quality looks.
“We read an article that said we played a cupcake schedule until then,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “I know (UVA head coach) Tony (Bennett) doesn’t feel that way, but we were going to be ready to play anyway. I think that got us a little more ready to play. All that stuff helps.”
It sure seemed that way as the Mountaineers held Virginia to a season-worst 41.3 percent shooting, eclipsing the previous low of 42.9 put up against Vanderbilt. The Cavaliers had shot better in than 50 percent in five of their eight games entering, but couldn’t get the three-pointer to fall against West Virginia’s intense man early. UVA missed 10 of its first 12 threes into the second half as the Mountaineers also mixed a zone defense in that forced the foe away from the paint and caused long range attempts.
That helped spur a 29-26 lead at the half that ballooned to as large as 39-32 with 14:15 remaining before Virginia guard Kyle Guy caught fire. The sophomore sharpshooter hit a trio of treys in a span of 64 seconds, pushing the Cavs into the lead and setting up a back-and-forth finish that saw both teams continually hit huge shots from outside. In the end, it was the steady play of Jevon Carter mixed with a dash of shooting from Lamont West and excellent defense late from Dax Miles that carried West Virginia to a marquee victory.
“They’re good and they are without question a top 15 team or whatever,” Huggins said. “They’ll be a really good team in their league as always. Tony does a great job coaching. Great job.”
Carter hit for 23 points and 10 rebounds while West finished with 22 points. Miles had two steals in the final 55 seconds, including one when UVA tried to force the ball to Guy, who had the hot had in hitting a season-high six three-pointers.
“We were always worried about him, but we let him keep going,” Huggins said. “We stopped guarding him. I thought we did a great job early of making him take tough shots and really work hard to get shots. Then, for whatever reason, we forgot he was out there. He’s not a good shooter; he’s a great shooter.”
That was in the back of Miles’ mind when he cut off a pass intended for Guy and tipped the ball to Carter. That essentially ended any chance of a Virginia rally when Carter hit two free throws for a 65-59 lead with 44 seconds to play. WVU’s defense forced UVA into a season-worst 14 turnovers, leading to 17 points. The Mountaineers were also solid on the offensive end themselves, connecting on 10 of 25 threes for 40 percent. West Virginia also hit 16 of 18 at the line, including nine of 10 from Carter in the second half.
The win moved West Virginia to 8-1 overall with a looming game at Pitt on Saturday. Previously unbeaten Virginia dropped to 8-1 and gave up its most points of the season at 68 to a WVU squad which has averaged more than 89 thanks to a pair of 100-point outings. The Mountaineers are now 62-4 in their last 66 December home games and figure to add two more to that against Coppin State and Fordham later this month.
“We’re getting better,” Huggins said. “We have to get better offensively. We just don’t go through any type of progression when we get the ball.We have to keep getting better at that.That;’s why I try to keep the ball in JC and Dax’s hands as much as I possibly can. They’re better at reading the plays. That part of it we have to get a whole lot better at.”