Last week the discussion was about how the West Virginia University Men’s Basketball Team would go cold from the floor for long stretches of time and how that problem was costing the team victories. That shooting problem was rectified Saturday as the Mountaineers topped eighth ranked Notre Dame 72-58 in front of an appreciative crowd at the WVU Coliseum.
The win gives West Virginia a 17-9 record overall and 8-6 in the Big East Conference. Not to oversimplify things, but you didn’t need a rocket scientist or Dick Vitale to figure out what West Virginia needed to do to make a late season charge. Coach Bob Huggins says it all the time, “We just need to make shots.” Even lesser knowledgeable people like yours truly have been saying the same thing.
Alas, shooting is one of those things that, while it can be taught, it is what is going on between your ears that leads to good or poor shooting. For long stretches this year WVU has had a difficult time finding more than one guy at a time that could step up and make shots. Often the Mountaineers would find themselves with no one on the floor that could score a basket.
Saturday started out like another bad shooting day as WVU went just eight for 28 in the first half. As it has done most of the time this season, the WVU defense kept the Mountaineers in the game as the Irish held a 27-26 lead.
Mountaineer fans have been waiting for some time to see just what this team is capable of and they got a glimpse of just how enjoyable it can be to see your team make some shots. West Virginia shot 54% in the second half including six of 11 from behind the arc to win going away.
Several guys stepped up to hit threes, one long range bomb by Johnnie West came at a critical moment and brought the house down, but it was point guard Truck Bryant that needs to be acknowledged. Bryant’s shooting struggles have been widely discussed and have been hashed and rehashed. The bottom line is Bryant hasn’t had a good shooting game since New Year’s Day in a loss to Marquette.
Bryant ended up with 24 points with a strong second half shooting display. His backcourt mate, Joe Mazzulla, scored 16 primarily by driving hard to the basket. If Mazzulla could have been better than three of seven from the foul line he may have been able to join Bryant in the 20 point category. Anyway folks, that is 40 points from your starting backcourt and college teams usually win when that occurs.
That Bryant and Mazzulla are starting together is interesting as they are both point guards. Not that that is important, because many one guards can play the two and vice versa, but at one point this season thinking that WVU could keep these two on the floor together for any length seemed to be a long shot. Mainly because of foul issues more than anything else.
The Mountaineers will need any confidence boost they can get, because their toughest assignment of the season is ahead of them this Thursday night at Pitt. Then it is off to Rutgers for a Sunday afternoon game against a Scarlet Knight team that has been making some noise of late. Then it is home games against UCONN next Wednesday night and Louisville next Saturday to complete the regular season.
Play like last Saturday makes a 3-1 finish a possibility. Anything less opens the door for a 0-4 finish.