Bob Huggins and the WVU basketball team took care of business in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, beating Bucknell 86-80.
It wasn’t a blowout. It wasn’t really a barn-burner, either. It was a win Mountaineer fans have seen many times this season. (And we certainly weren’t scared.)
West Virginia shot the ball extremely well against the Bison; 45.5 percent from the field, 45 percent from three, and 72.4 percent from the free-throw line. Bucknell shot good too – if not better than WVU (45.8 percent, 45, and 73.9), but it was rebounding where the ‘Eers took advantage.
The defensive glass was about even, 25 to 23 in WVU’s favor, but it was the offensive glass that was the deciding factor.
The ‘Eers average 14 offensive boards a game, but hauled in 17 Thursday to the Bison’s nine. Nathan Adrian collected four (10 total) and scored 12 points while wreaking havoc all over the place; he added three blocks, two assists and one steal. What those numbers won’t show are the countless times Adrian dove after a loose ball.
Freshman Lamont West was on the receiving end of that Adrian hustle play and paced the ‘Eers in the first half, finishing with 15 points off the bench. It might not seem like a lot, but this game – coupled with the Big 12 Tournament – are great experience and confidence builders. Tarik Phillip is one who doesn’t need any boosts to his confidence, though. The senior led WVU in scoring at the game’s final buzzer, thanks to a selfishness that more players wish they had.
With three minutes to go, it was obvious Phillip wanted the rock in his hands. His size-up dribbles before attacking just oozed confidence. He eventually got where he wanted; the free-throw line.
Three times he was there with under a minute to go.
Free throws have been an achilles heel for this team in many of their losses, something that we’ll be reminded of every time they play. A match-up with the best free-throw shooting team in the nation Saturday could push this WVU team to the limit, though.
Notre Dame squeezed out a two-point victory againt Princeton, but it was more in spite of their free throw shooting than because of it. The Irish were only 14 for 21, almost 15 percent worse than their season average.
The most exciting match-up for WVU-ND, though will be the turnover battle. West Virginia forced Bucknell into 15 turnovers, while Notre Dame only committed six against the Tigers of Princeton. Whoever succeeds in this facet of the game could very well be continuing their season. What helps West Virginia is the quick turnaround in-between first and second round games. Bucknell had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for Press Virginia. Notre Dame isn’t afforded that same luxury. With Saturday’s tip-off time yet to be released, the Irish will rush to install or work out any wrinkles to their press break.