Defense propels WVU into Final Four
College Football Videos
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia coach Bob Huggins considered his team's defense a weakness heading into Big East play four months ago.
Now, it is the Mountaineers' strength heading into the Final Four this weekend.
West Virginia has held opponents to fewer than 70 points in its past 10 games -- all wins. Since the end of the regular season, only Kentucky has scored more than 60 points against the Mountaineers' stingy defense.
"I didn't think we got to the ball early. We became too man-conscious. We didn't help each other as much as we need to," Huggins said of the team's defensive issues early in the season. "But in the last three weeks to a month, we've really done a lot better."
WVU is giving up 57.75 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. He credits the length of his team, with players such as forward Devin Ebanks and John Flowers, as to why the Mountaineers' defense has been so strong as of late. Huggins said it has been necessity that has brought along the defensive emphasis.
"We aren't going to score a lot of points," Huggins said. "Our guys want to win, so they know they have to do a good job guarding."
When West Virginia takes on Duke in the Final Four on Saturday in Indianapolis at approximately 8:47 p.m., it will pit two of the best defensive teams in the country against each other.
Duke is giving up 56.25 points per game in the NCAA Tournament, which is the best average among Final Four teams. Butler and Michigan State are giving up an average of 56.75 and 67.75 points per game, respectively, in the NCAA Tournament.
"Both (Duke and WVU) haven't shot the ball well, so it makes both of us as teams understand that if we have a chance to win we are going to have to win every possession on the defensive end," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We play defense in a little bit different manner, but the motivation to play it and rebound is the same."
Under Huggins, West Virginia is known to play the rugged man-to-man defense he has been deployed at his previous coaching stops. But against Kentucky on Saturday in the Elite Eight, the Mountaineers took a trip to the past, starting out the game in a 1-3-1 zone and playing nearly the entire game in that defense.
"We had to do it," WVU senior Wellington Smith said. "We definitely didn't play Huggins' basketball, but we made it work."
The Wildcats has 16 turnovers against just 10 assists in WVU's 73-66 win.
The defense was a trademark for former WVU coach John Beilein before he left for Michigan. When Huggins took over in 2007, he decided to keep the defense in his back pocket. He learned the intricacies of the 1-3-1 defense from WVU players who apprenticed in Beilein's system, such as former guard Alex Ruoff and current forward Da'Sean Butler.
Huggins has used it as a complement to the man-to-man defense while at WVU. This season, WVU has used the 1-3-1 zone at crucial times late in games to catch opponents off guard.
In nearly every game, it has worked. The Mountaineers used it throughout the Big East Tournament semifinal game against Notre Dame and late in the final game of the conference tournament against Georgetown.
But never has Huggins used the 1-3-1 throughout an entire game.
"We came in thinking that we would change defenses on them," Huggins said after the Kentucky win. "Halfway through the first half, though, we decided the 1-3-1 was better, so we were going to ride it as long as we could."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Jefferson Hospital doctor serves as panelist for mental health legislation
- Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board suspends in-store tastings
- Steelers notebook: Mitchell to miss beginning of training camp
- Steelers won’t negotiate Roethlisberger extension until after season
- Roundup: Citizens bank parent says 6-month profit doubles; Former Heinz CEO leaving EDMC board; more
- Grand opening of West Kittanning community building will merge past, present
- Sale of WyoTech career college concerns Casey
- LaBar: John Cena leaving WWE for Hollywood?
- After year off, Steelers’ Pouncey ‘ready to go’
- Rossi: Roethlisberger staging big comeback
- Belle Vernon man faces drug charges