Throughout this season, the West Virginia men’s basketball team had to rely heavily on its offensive ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter for success.
But in WVU’s latest two-game winning streak – which matches its longest conference league winning streak of the year – it has been the Mountaineers’ defense that propelled them.
“I’ve told you for seven years that we’re going to take away what they want to do (offensively),” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. “I think we took them out of their dribble hand-offs and kept it on one side of the floor, finally. That’s what good coaches do. They figure out a way to stop them.”
West Virginia is last in the Big 12 in overall opposing field goal percentage (43.8) as well as opposing 3-point field goal percentage (34.8) but has excelled in other defensive aspects.
The Mountaineers lead the Big 12 in turnover margin during league play and have also forced the second-most steals of any other team against conference opponents.
Junior guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, as well as freshman forward Nathan Adrian, are all averaging at least one steal per conference appearance. Freshman forward Brandon Watkins and sophomore forward Terry Henderson also both rank in the top 13 in blocked shots in league games.
“We just have to keep playing hard, playing our game,” Henderson said. “We know what kind of talent we have on our team, and we know the kind of players we have. We all just have to believe in the system, trust in each other (and) have each other’s back. If we do that, nobody can really stop us.”
West Virginia has also increased its opponent’s offensive output in this two-game stretch, despite allowing Kansas State to shoot more than 50 percent from the floor in the Mountaineers’ last win. WVU was previously 0-3 this season when allowing its opponent to shoot 50 percent or better.
But by holding both Baylor and the Wildcats to just 64 and 71 points, respectively, the Mountaineers improved their record to 10-1 when holding their opponent to 71 points or fewer this year.
However, it should also be noted West Virginia accomplished this against some of the offensively challenged Big 12 teams. The Mountaineers’ upcoming schedule will be a test of their defensive mettle.
West Virginia plays the three of the highest scoring teams in Big 12 play this season in Oklahoma (78.2 points per game), Kansas (82.9) and Iowa State (78.9).
Although West Virginia’s defense will indeed face a series of upcoming tests, the Mountaineers also aren’t getting lost in the trends, rather only looking to remain consistent and steadfast.
“All I see now is we’re proving some people wrong,” said sophomore guard Eron Harris. “We’re proving ourselves right. I just want to keep going with it. We can’t get too happy. We can’t get too down. We’ve got to be right where we are, and we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing and win.”