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WVU basketball: Cyclones prefer to push pace

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia had its best shooting half and second-highest shooting percentage in a game in Saturday's loss to No. 16 Kansas State.

That followed what had been a particularly inspiring second half and overtime performance in Wednesday's comeback win at Texas.

A sudden trend for WVU (8-7, 1-2 Big 12) is a habit for Wednesday's opponent.

Iowa State (11-4, 1-1) leads the Big 12 in a list of offensive categories, but the Cyclones do their best work in a hurry. They're tops in scoring, possessions per 40 minutes, field goals attempted and made and 3-point baskets attempted and made.

"I think that's our philosophy," Coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We really want to try to get the ball up and down the floor and score before the defense gets set."

Iowa State averages 82.5 points per game, which is No. 5 nationally.

The Mountaineers (68 points per game) have been above 80 points just twice.

The Cyclones average 73.5 possessions and have made 21 more shots and attempted 78 more shots than the next team in the league in the same number of games, but they're also third in field-goal percentage (45.3) and 3-point percentage (36.3).

"The big thing is to try to get guys to go out there and play with confidence," said Hoiberg, one of the most popular players in Iowa State history and a 10-year NBA veteran with the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves. "I played for two of the best all-time as far as pumping us up on the floor and making me go out and play with confidence in Larry Bird and Kevin McHale.

"Those guys were able to get us out there playing with the swagger and the confidence you have to have if you're going to be a good shooting team."

It spreads to other areas, as well.

The Cyclones lead the league in rebounds (42.6 per game) and rebounding margin (plus-8.9) as well as assists (16.9 per game).

"It starts with rebounding, and controlling the glass gives us an opportunity to get out in transition," Hoiberg said. "I think our spacing has been very good on the break and Korie Lucious is making very good decisions. He's taking steps in the right direction and doing a great job running the show."

Lucious is one of five Division I transfers on the roster and one of four playing this season. The former starting point guard on Michigan State's 2010 Final Four team, Lucious averages 5.4 assists per game.

The Mountaineers are plus-3.5 in rebounding margin and average 14.9 offensive rebounds per game, the same as Iowa State. They allow opponents 6.5 fewer possessions a game than what the Cyclones average.

"No doubt about it, this will be the most physical team we've played all year," Hoiberg said. "They lost a heart-breaker against Kansas State this weekend, so as a team I know they're going to be prepared. I have so much respect for Bob Huggins and the way his guys play for him.

"It's going to be a great test for our guys. We've got to do a great job on the glass. They do as good a job as anyone in the country as far as getting their own miss and capitalizing on it. It's a big couple of days for us to get in the right frame of mind and get the right mentality for this one."

*  *  *

THE CYCLONES are not without weaknesses. They're No. 9 in the 10-team Big 12 in scoring defense (68.7 points per game) and No. 7 in field-goal percentage defense (40.7 percent). No one has allowed more assists.

WVU shot just 25 percent in Wednesday's first half, but 45.5 percent in the second half to erase a 42-29 deficit against Texas, which still leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense.

The Mountaineers then shot a season-high 64.7 percent in the first half Saturday and 51 percent for the game.

"I thought we got better shots, I thought we did a better job getting quality shots, but obviously we didn't get enough of them," Huggins said. "I'd rather shoot 30 percent and win than shoot 50 percent and lose.

"But we're getting better. On the perimeter, we play three sophomores and two freshmen. We're getting better all the time. I think the more and more experience we get, the better they get."

WVU nevertheless lost with a series of late errors against the Wildcats. Iowa State is coming off an 82-62 win against Texas one game after an overtime loss at No. 4 Kansas. The Cyclones led the Jayhawks by four points with 29 seconds to go, but headed to overtime after Kansas made a 3-pointer with 1 second left.

"I'm so proud of our guys and how we bounced back after a tough loss at Kansas, an absolute heart-breaker for everyone involved with it," Hoiberg said. "It's not too often you win in Allen Fieldhouse. When they bank in a shot to send it to overtime and end up beating us, you always worry about a letdown in that scenario."

*  *  *

THE MOUNTAINEERS travel home immediately after the game and then travel Friday to West Lafayette, Ind., for Saturday's 2 p.m. game against Purdue (WOWK telecast). WVU will fly back to campus after that game.

NCAA rules prohibit teams from staying on the road between successive road games, though there are recommendations to adapt that rule to recent developments. Huggins said conference realignment has made some rules "antiquated."

The trip to Iowa State, which is more than 850 miles away, is the shortest WVU will take. The Mountaineers later have back-to-back road games at TCU and Baylor (Feb. 9 and 13) and Kansas and Oklahoma (March 2 and 6).

"I think it would be advantageous, or would have been advantageous, for us to be able to, at times, probably stay rather than come back, so I think you'll see rule changes as the landscape of college athletics continues to change," Huggins said.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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