Defense paves way to Indy for West Virginia
INDIANAPOLIS — Bob Huggins was circumspect when asked how he would attack West Virginia's tenacious 1-3-1 defense.
"It's hard for me to understand, because I see it every day," the Mountaineers coach said. "We're not very big, but we do have great length."
In four NCAA Tournament games, West Virginia has held opponents to an average of 57.8 points and 33.9 percent shooting with long-armed, 6-foot-9 sophomore Devin Ebanks serving as the point man at the top of the zone.
Duke, tonight's opponent in the national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium, is averaging 72.3 points and shooting 43.1 percent in the tournament. Another strong defensive effort could move the Mountaineers one step closer to the first national championship in school history.
"It's a defense that fits well for their personnel," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They have Ebanks up on top — he has a 7-foot wingspan. Then (Kevin) Jones and (Da'Sean) Butler on the wings — they take away vision. Instead of looking at them, you'd better focus on who you're supposed to pass to.
"We've worked on it. We feel comfortable attacking it in practice, but we can't simulate that length. Length and speed are two things that you can't simulate when you're practicing."
Junior guard Nolan Smith said Duke hasn't faced the 1-3-1 zone since last season's victory against Michigan — led by former West Virginia coach John Beilein. Huggins juggles variations of the 1-3-1 that Beilein used at West Virginia.
"So far this year, we really haven't played against a 1-3-1," said Smith, the Blue Devils' third-leading scorer at 17.4 points. "It's all about attacking. Baylor played a really aggressive zone (in the South Regional final), and I was able to get into the middle of it, so I'm going to look to do the same thing."
Kentucky's players had similar ideas about attacking West Virginia's zone entering the East Regional final. But the Mountaineers' defense throttled the top-seeded Wildcats, who missed their first 20 3-point attempts and shot just 34.3 percent overall.
West Virginia junior guard Joe Mazzulla, in addition to scoring a career-high 17 points against freshman All-American John Wall, helped double-team freshman All-America big man DeMarcus Cousins.
"They did a great job denying us from getting it to the wings," Wall said. "(Mazzulla) was hanging on pretty tough to Cousins. We tried to lob it to him — we couldn't get it to him."
Against Duke, the last No. 1 seed in the tournament, Mazzulla said second-seeded West Virginia will offer a similar challenge.
"It depends on how they attack it," he said. "I don't think Kentucky really made it a point to try to get the ball to Cousins. As long as we have great ball pressure and get into passing lanes, it is a difficult defense."
Duke's players believe they know the correct way to attack the 1-3-1.
"I'm not going to give away our game plan, but we obviously have to be a lot more aggressive than we were (against) Baylor," senior center Brian Zoubek said. "We're going to have to try to get it inside as much as possible and really crash the boards. Because, when they come over on the weak side, it leaves (that) side open for offensive (rebounds)."
Preview: DUKE (33-5) vs. WEST VIRGINIA (31-6)
Duke's starting five
G Nolan Smith — He is one of the best scoring point guards in the country, and he is averaging 17.4 points.
G Jon Scheyer — The 6-foot-5 shooting guard leads the Blue Devils in scoring at 18.2 points. He's also the leader on the court.
G/F Kyle Singler — The 6-8 swing player is the most athletic of Duke's starters, but he is coming off a season-low five-point performance against Baylor.
F Lance Thomas — He is the least productive of the Blue Devils' starters, averaging just 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds.
C Brian Zoubek — The 7-1 center should give the Mountaineers problems inside. He only averages 18.1 minutes, though, and struggles with foul trouble.
West Virginia's starting five
G Joe Mazzulla — In West Virginia's past two games, he averaged 10 points in place of injured starter Darryl "Truck" Bryant.
F Da'Sean Butler — The second-team All-American has made six game-winning shots this season and leads the team in scoring at 17.4 points. He will guard Singler.
F Devin Ebanks — The 6-9 sophomore is the team's shut-down defender. He likely will go up against Scheyer.
F Kevin Jones — The 6-8 sophomore might have trouble against Duke's taller lineup; Jones gets a lot of his points off the offensive glass.
F Wellington Smith — Using his strong outside shot, the senior likely will try to bring Zoubek out of the paint.
West Virginia bench — The Mountaineers bring a strong defensive group led by John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman. Casey Mitchell and Deniz Kilicli bring offense if needed.
Duke bench — The Blue Devils are deep; four bench players average more than 10 minutes per game. The Plumlee brothers — Miles and Mason — are a key factor inside.
Mike Krzyzewski — The veteran coach has won three national titles and Olympic gold. He also has one of the biggest teams of his tenure at Duke.
Bob Huggins — He is in his third year at West Virginia and the second Final Four of his career. He beat Krzyzewski in 2008 when their teams met in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
— Tony Dobies