Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pressing Their Luck West Virginia's Relentless Fullcourt Defense Has Taken the Mountaineers This Fare, but Will It Be Enough to Shock the World and Knock off Undefeated Kentucky in the Sweet 16?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Pressing Their Luck West Virginia's Relentless Fullcourt Defense Has Taken the Mountaineers This Fare, but Will It Be Enough to Shock the World and Knock off Undefeated Kentucky in the Sweet 16?

Article excerpt

CLEVELAND ? Bob Huggins' teams traditionally have been frontcourt heavy. He prefers to play big and physical on defense, and on offense he prefers to play from the inside out.

But he did not want to have three poor seasons in a row, and after sizing up his personnel before the start of this season, he realized there wasn't much size. What he had, however, was a group of 13 players who could run.

That's why this year's Mountaineers are a fast-paced bunch of fullcourt-pressing players who thrive on trapping the life out of other teams, wearing opponents out with their depth and creating turnovers that turn into easy baskets.

Huggins, who is third all time among active coaches with 765 wins, said there isn't some deep meaning behind his style for this team; it was simply a matter of survival.

He said he wasn't sure it would be sustainable for a whole season, but he consulted with former Cleveland State coach Kevin Mackey, a guru of the fullcourt press, and decided it could work.

"I did it because I like to win," said Huggins, whose previous two Mountaineers teams missed the NCAA tournament. "I got tired of losing, and I just thought with the makeup of our team, [pressing] would be a way that we would have a chance to win. ... Why do you want to give up real estate, basically?

"I figured if [Mackey] thought we could do it, then maybe we could do it."

The system has worked well. The Mountaineers have won 25 games and advanced to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16, and Huggins was named Big 12 Conference coach of the year.

But will their fullcourt, trapping, man-to-man pressure be enough to upset the No. 1 team in Division I?

"I don't know," Huggins said Wednesday when asked that very question. "I sure hope so."

Huggins and the rest of the country will get their answer tonight when No. 5-seeded West Virginia (25-9) plays No. 1 Kentucky (36-0) in a Midwest Region semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

The winner will play the winner of the first game of the doubleheader between No. 3 Notre Dame (31-5) and No. 7 Wichita State (30-4).

The Wildcats are trying to make history as the first team to go 40-0, and with a roster stocked with tall players and future NBA first-round picks, they are forging their way toward becoming one of the best teams in history. …

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