WVU guards key to Mountaineers' success
MORGANTOWN - The speaker can't even finish the question before Truck Bryant starts to smile, shake his head and laugh. It's only been five games, but at 4-1, West Virginia's senior guard sees the change.
"This is a lot different," he said. "We're up and down this year. We'll go up and down every chance we get to push it. We're going to push the ball and try to score easy baskets."
This has been a goal for years now with Bob Huggins as the coach and even with Bryant in the backcourt. Yet whether it was youth in 2008-09 that had Da'Sean Butler playing point guard or the injuries to Joe Mazzulla that shuffled parts of three seasons, or the personal issues that kept Noah Cottrill from doing anything for the Mountaineers, it never happened.
Bryant hasn't kept company quite like he is in now. Freshmen guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne give the Mountaineers numbers and skills in the backcourt to which WVU just isn't accustomed as it heads to No. 21 Mississippi State (7-1) for a 9 p.m. tipoff Saturday (ESPNU telecast) in the Big East-SEC Challenge.
"It's a different element," WVU senior forward Kevin Jones said. "These guys are really quick and they can get in the lane any time they want and put a lot of pressure on the other team's defense. When they get in the lane is when we're at our best.
"The other team's big man gets in foul trouble. We get kick-outs for easy 3s. They drop it off to other guys in the lane. It's making us a better team."
Last week the Mountaineers used their guards to pressure Morehead State and force 23 turnovers. Hinds erupted for 12 points in a 19-2 run at the end of the first half Monday to blow out Akron. He and Browne got Akron's shot blocking center, Zeke Marshall, into foul trouble.
The three guards helped the Mountaineers finish with 42 points in the paint.
Huggins has tried to play Bryant with one of the freshmen and Bryant has started every game with Hinds. Bryant was a shooting guard in high school who learned point guard in college and Hinds is making the same transition now.
"At the end of the day, with my size, I'm going to be a point guard," the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Hinds said.
Huggins likes using Bryant at the two guard, but knows he can play the point as Hinds progresses, and Hinds took a big step against the Zips with 19 points (8-of-12 shooting), four assists, five steals and no turnovers. He's making 60.5 percent of his shots and averaging 11.8 points per game.
"I felt like I hadn't been as aggressive as I used to be," Hinds said. "Now I'll try to be more consistent."
Browne is a natural point guard who grew up playing the position in Puerto Rico's national team program. He has 21 assists and 10 turnovers this season. When he plays, Bryant or Hinds can play shooting guard, although Huggins has played Browne and Hinds together more and more lately. They were most comfortable Monday.
"We've been practicing for weeks now and playing at the same time for a while in practice and in games," the 6-1, 185-pound Browne said. "We're getting better together and right know we know each other better and what we're capable of doing. I know he can really score. He knows I can pass the ball."
Hinds and Browne both move the ball. Browne is the team's No. 3 rebounder (4.2 per game) and gets to loose balls better than anyone on the team, according to Huggins. Hinds turns opponents over and has 16 steals while forcing a bunch of others.
The quickest players on the team, Hinds and Browne turn defense into offense. They've combined to lift WVU's transition game - and Hinds actually has as many assists as Browne.
The Mountaineers have talked about playing this way for a long time. They're doing it now.
"It motivates you to know your teammates are looking for you and you've got teammates running up the court," Jones said. "It's easy to say, 'Run up the court,' when you get a rebound, but when people are looking for you, it gives you motivation to get out and run."
Huggins added a twist against the Zips and played all three guards together for stretches with Jones and Deniz Kilicli. He'd done it in spots this season, but never as often or for as long. While it worked, Huggins said seeing more of that depends not on the guards, but on forwards Keaton Miles, Aaron Brown and Tommie McCune.
Miles, who starts, combined with Brown and McCune for two points, five turnovers and just five shots in 36 minutes.
"I'd rather just play two guards because we have to rebound it and it's harder when we play those three guards, obviously, but I had to. The other guys weren't doing anything," Huggins said. "Deniz and K.J. can't get every rebound - well, K.J. can't get every rebound. Deniz got all of two.
"It'd be nice to have a little more size and to have Keaton or Tommie or, for that matter, Aaron Brown kind of step up in there and say, 'This is my position.' To his point, none of them has."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.