The 39 Shots

Somehow, West Virginia won a basketball game on Monday in which it attempted just 39 shots. In a strange way, is that a sign that this team is figuring out a way to win?

Against Texas, WVU took just 39 shots from the field – seven fewer than its previous season low of 46 tries against Texas Tech. Prior to this most recent Longhorn game, WVU failed to launch at least 52 shots in a game just four times this year. Also, in its previous meeting with UT, WVU managed to squeeze off 62 shots. Even though that was an overtime game, the Mountaineers still had a much higher shot rate in that contest than they did in the most recent encounter.

One first half stretch in Monday's game was illustrative of the shot differential. In the game's first 11 minutes, WVU took just eight shots that counted in the stats. Even adding in two other attempts that didn't count due to Texas fouls, WVU had just tenattempts from the field before a three-shot flurry at the 9:08 mark opened up the offense a bit. At that point, WVU had fewer points that it had played minutes, and didn't turn that mark around until Eron Harris nailed a three-pointer at the 7:24 mark to give the Mountaineers 15 points.

So, how did the Mountaineers overcome this handicap in the 60-58 home win on Monday night?

First, WVU was efficient on the shots it did take. It made 46% of its attempts, and although it was only 4-13 from three-point range, was still able to produce 18 points in the lane.

Second, it attacked Texas' harassing defense, forcing 20 Longhorn fouls and getting to the free throw line 29 times. It was there that the win was really sealed, as the Mountaineers outscored the Longhorns by nine.

Texas, an excellent defensive team, had a good deal to do with the low shot totals as well. It forced the Mountaineers to work hard and run offense for lengthy periods to get a shot away, which shortened the game. It also ruled the glass, permitting WVU just six offensive boards and three second chance points. Finally it forced 16 Mountaineer turnovers – lost shot opportunities that a team can never recover.

Despite these handicaps, the Mountaineers were still able to hold on for a win against a team that it was fighting to stay ahead of in the Big 12 standings. The manner in which they got that win, though, might not be as important as the fact that they figured out another way to win – a way that they hadn't exhibited all year. Although mistakes were still plentiful, WVU made adjustments. It got the ball inside to Deniz Kilicli, who turned in an excellent performance. It worked the ball to open spots, and for the most part got good shots (four early threes were all well set up and open, although ultimately resulting in misses). It played good defense, except for a four-minute stretch in the second half when the Longhorns drove to the basket and pounded the offensive glass with impunity. In short, it was able to emphasize the things that were working well to overcome those items that weren't going their way.

If WVU is to make a run, it's going to have to continue to find ways to adjust, just as it has the past two games. The Mountaineers' inconsistency probably isn't going to go away this year, so it has to be able to ride parts of its game that are working well on a particular night. Can it do so? The next few games will give West Virginia fans that answer, but going on the performances in the last two games, there are at least some signs of hope that it has finally found ways to win.

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