"We've got a bunch of young guys, and our guys who aren't young haven't been here very long," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "They're starting to understand what we're telling them. We're not running a lot of sets. We're trying to let them play ball and have them understand what the defense is doing and what counters they have to make. I think that's the best way to play basketball if you can do it, and I think they're understanding is getting better.
"We just had a ton of young guys, and they tried. I never sat here and said they didn't try. They've tried all year. It's just that the more you coach them and the better their background is, they start to understand things better."
The Mountaineers are not without flaws, though. They were outrebounded by Iowa State 44-34 and are No. 8 in the Big 12 in rebounds per game (35.9) and No. 9 in rebounding margin per game (minus-0.3). They also surrendered 42 points in the paint Monday, though that was due in part to concentrating on running the Cyclones off the perimeter so they couldn't get cozy looks at 3-pointers.
Still, WVU is allowing 30.1 points per game in the paint - a whopping 41.8 percent of the 72.1 points allowed per game - and easy shots contribute to the league's worst field-goal percentage defense (43.7).
Huggins is nevertheless content with the way WVU has played defense in this five-game stretch because it's better than what it had been before. Iowa State was averaging 85 points and 8.8 3-pointers per game. They're still the only team in the country with more than 70 points in every game, but WVU held the Cyclones to four 3-pointers in 23 attempts. Melvin Ejim, the Big 12's leading scorer, scored six points on 1-for-9 shooting. He scored 48 points on 20-for-24 shooting against TCU last Saturday.
"Honestly," Huggins said, "this was maybe the best job we've done defensively."
Sustaining that is critical because the offense was already good and is getting better. The Mountaineers were scoring 78.2 points per game after beating Baylor. They average 79.4 now, which is No. 5 in the Big 12 and No. 31 nationally. More indicative of WVU's success is averaging 1.14 points per possession, which is No. 2 in the Big 12 and No. 21 nationally. It's especially relevant because WVU plays fast and doesn't commit turnovers. Their 9.8 turnovers per game are the fewest in the Big 12 and ranks No. 8 in the country.
"We can't really call what's going to happen in the future," Staten said. "I think people forget this is still basketball and the ball can bounce your way or the opponent's way. We're just going to play the way we play. We don't worry about if this is ever going to happen again or anything like that.
"We listen to our coaches and what they want us to do and we go out and do it. Our mindset is to go out there and play as hard as we can. We're guarding the ball better now and we know we can score with any team."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mi...@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.