WVU Looks to Rebound
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
February 16, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – No. 8 West Virginia has to be careful not to let one giveaway turn into two.
Last Friday at Pitt, the Mountaineers blew a seven-point lead with 49.5 seconds left and eventually lost to the Panthers 98-95 in three overtimes in a game they are now referring to as an “epic” up in Pittsburgh.
That can certainly be debated. What can not be debated are West Virginia’s struggles at the free throw line in recent games.
Last Monday, poor free throw shooting cost the Mountaineers an opportunity to knock off fourth-ranked Villanova in Morgantown. West Virginia was 18 of 32 from the line overall and only 4 of 9 inside the 10-minute mark in the second half.
Against Pitt, West Virginia missed three crucial front-ends of one-and-ones that helped Pitt come back from a two-possession deficit with less than a minute left in the game. Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins says the misses are not because of a lack of practice.
“We’ve shot a lot of free throws,” he explained. “We didn’t shoot a bunch of them early on because we were trying to get everything in, but over the break and since then we’ve had them make at least 50 and some days when we’ve had enough time, they’ve made 100.”
The misses are coming from some of the team’s best free throw shooters. Da’Sean Butler leads the team with a 78.2 free throw percentage and Truck Bryant is shooting a very solid 72.1%. Those are two players Huggins wants at the line at the end of the game.
“Da’ goes 8 for 8 against St. John’s and then he struggles a little bit against Villanova and he misses the two front-ends (against Pitt). After he misses those two I thought he was kind of hanging his head a little bit,” said Huggins. “Truck had just made a couple so I wanted them to throw the ball to Truck and then Truck missed one.
“You’re going to miss some once in a while but you shouldn’t miss three front-ends.”
Huggins gave the team two days off to get them refreshed for the remaining three weeks of the regular season that starts in earnest with Wednesday night’s game at Providence.
The Friars (12-13, 4-9) have lost five in a row, including a 92-81 shootout on the road at Villanova last Saturday. Jamine Peterson and Sharaud Curry scored 19 points each for the Friars.
Peterson is fifth in the Big East in scoring averaging 18.9 points per game. The 6-6 forward is also averaging 9.9 rebounds per game and is shooting 45.4% from the floor.
“I think he’s probably the most improved player in the league,” said Huggins. “I think he’s really good. He can shoot the 3 and he can drive to the basket. He rebounds it. He’s really, really athletic.”
Curry gives the Friars 15.5 points and 3.4 assists per game in the backcourt. Six-eight freshman forward Bilal Dixon is fourth in the Big East with an average of 2.08 blocks per game.
Providence is the second best scoring team in the league averaging 81.8 points per game, but ranks last in the conference in scoring defense (79.5 ppg.) and field-goal percentage defense (45.6%). Providence also has one of the lowest shooting percentages in the conference at 42.7%. Huggins says those numbers can be attributed to the Friars’ up-tempo style of play.
“The reason there are more points is there are more possessions,” said Huggins. “They try to make you shoot it quick and they shoot it quick themselves. The fallacy that some of these people profess to be such great defenders is because they take so much time on offense. Any time you shorten the game and have fewer possessions it would stand to reason you’re going to have less points.”
The statistic that has Huggins most concerned is offensive rebounding. Providence is the best offensive rebounding team in the Big East, grabbing more than 17 per game.
“They’re leading the league in offensive rebounding,” he said. “They shoot a lot of 3s and your percentage doesn’t have to be as high when you shoot as many 3s as they do. They’re a very good transition team.”
The rash of recent upsets in the Big East has kept West Virginia (19-5, 8-4) near the top of the league standings. Louisville knocked off Syracuse last Saturday and Villanova lost at home to Connecticut on Monday night. Also, a Rutgers home win against Georgetown last Saturday knocked the Hoyas out of a three-way tie with West Virginia and Pitt in third place.
Villanova and Syracuse remained tied in first with 11-2 conference records. Pitt and West Virginia are tied for third with 8-4 marks, while Georgetown is fifth at 8-5. Right behind the Hoyas are Louisville and Marquette with 7-5 records.
The top four teams receive byes in the Big East tournament beginning March 9 in New York City.
West Virginia has won nine out of the last 10 games against Providence. The lone loss during that span was a 64-61 setback to the Friars in Providence on Feb. 20, 2007.
Wednesday’s game will be televised on the Big East Network. Tip time is 7 p.m.
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