Defense proving to be foundation for success
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 00:02
After the West Virginia men’s basketball team’s loss at Purdue Jan. 19, it appeared as if the Mountaineers might have finally hit rock bottom.
WVU allowed Purdue to shoot 49 percent from the floor, including an absolutely staggering 8-of-11 from behind the arc, despite the fact the Boilermakers came into the contest averaging less than 30 percent from long range.
It was also the fourth-highest opponent point total (79) allowed by the Mountaineers the entire season.
"The coaches told me before the game the first team to 50 will win the game," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins following the Purdue contest. "But we just don’t compete.
"We shot the ball terrible, but that should not stop us from guarding."
Despite how ugly the game was at the time for fans and supporters of West Virginia basketball, it appears that the Purdue game may have actually been a big-time wake up call for the Mountaineers’ defense.
Since that game in mid-January, West Virginia’s defense has been visibly playing with more of an edge, more focus, and ultimately, more success.
In fact, in five games since then, WVU has allowed just one opponent, Oklahoma State, to surpass the 70 point mark, and the Mountaineers have won three of those five games, including its first Big 12 Conference win streak in school history.
In those five games, West Virginia has held its opponents to a collective 43 percent from the floor, but even more significant is the rate at which the Mountaineers have been forcing turnovers. Since losing at Purdue, the Mountaineers have forced 82 total turnovers, more than 16 a game.
And many of the turnovers are coming directly via the steal for West Virginia, as WVU has recorded more than 10 steals per game throughout its last five. This has vaulted the Mountaineers to second overall in the conference in steals, averaging just a bit more than 7.5 takeaways a game for the entire year.
It’s also been a balanced defensive effort, as eight different West Virginia players have amassed double-digit steal numbers this season. Sophomore point guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne lead the team, each averaging slightly more than a steal per contest.
"I think if we do what we’re supposed to, honestly, we can turn over just about anybody when you put that much pressure," Huggins said after the Mountaineers forced then-No. 1 Kansas into 16 turnovers, the second most the Jayhawks have committed in a game all year.
It didn’t take long for the team to top that, either, as West Virginia turned right around and forced a whopping 22 turnovers in WVU’s next appearance, a conference win, against Texas Tech in Lubbock.
"Give them credit," said Texas Tech interim head coach Chris Walker. "They switched it up on us, and our guys weren’t able to adjust. They made key turnovers that really just turned the game."
Walker’s not the only opposing coach who’s been recently impressed with the increasingly stout Mountaineers’ defensive unit. Texas head coach Rick Barnes had a few encouraging words of his own for the team that forced his Longhorns into 14 turnovers on eight steals in West Virginia’s second impressive Big Monday appearance in as many weeks.
"I think they’re an excellent defensive team," Barnes said. "They’re not going to give you a lot, (and) we knew that coming in. And we go through some droughts, like we did tonight, but West Virginia’s got a lot to do with that.
"Bobby’s teams are going to make you earn everything you get."