MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There isn't a strong case to be made about West Virginia playing good defense this season. The Mountaineers are eighth in the 10-team Big 12 in scoring defense and last in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage defense.
It might not even seem wise to argue WVU is better of late. In Big 12 play, the nine most-recent games the Mountaineers have played, the scoring defense (75.8) is actually 5.1 points per game higher than it is for the entire season. WVU is again in last place in Big 12 play in field-goal and 3-point percentage defense, but conference opponents are shooting 4.6 points higher from the floor (48.4) and 6.4 points higher from 3-point play in conference games.
That's not a good look entering tonight's 7 p.m. game against No. 21 Oklahoma (ESPNU). The Sooners enter the Coliseum ranked third in the Big 12 in scoring offense (83.5) and 3-point percentage (37.5). No other team in the league has five players who score in double figures.
Then again, the Big 12 looks every bit like the country's best and deepest conference with three teams in Tuesday's RPI top 10, four in the top 11 and nine in the top 68.
In the past two games against Baylor and Kansas State, both wins, WVU strung together defensive stands at key times when its offense surged and scored enough to win. Ask Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers coach will say his defense isn't as bad as it once was because it isn't playing the way it did earlier this season.
"We were trying to do like a lot of people do and gap everything, and it's just not my personality," Huggins said. "It hard, I think, to not coach your personality, so we've gotten back to trying to pressure people a little bit more and push the ball farther out."
Huggins first had his Mountaineers (13-9, 5-4 Big 12) playing off defenders a little and making sure they covered the gaps between the ball and the basket. At the time, it made sense. New rules this season make it easier for ball-handlers on the perimeter. The Mountaineers don't have a shot-blocker near the basket who can clean up mistakes teammates in front of him.
But Huggins also knew his roster and that his players weren't exactly in love with playing defense a year ago.
"The truth is they brother-in-lawed each other last year (in practice) - 'I won't go by you if you don't go by me. I won't score on you if you don't score on me. That way he we can get out of here,'" Huggins said. "That's the truth and that was a constant fight every single day. It's not like that now."
Throughout the preseason and then the season, Huggins has bragged and even bubbled over about the way Eron Harris, Terry Henderson, Juwan Staten and Gary Browne go after one another in practice. The Mountaineers would mix in zone defenses to cover up problems with man-to-man defense, but lately have moved away from the zones, even within games, to play man-to-man and to spring a half-court trap on opponents.