Getting Defensive

For the early portion of conference play, the majority of the West Virginia basketball team's struggles have come on the defensive end of the floor.

The Mountaineers are allowing almost 80 points per game to Big 12 foes, the most of any team in the league. In three of their last four games, teams have scored 80 or more points.

A majority of the damage done against West Virginia has come in the form of lights-out shooting performances by perimeter players who were able to get hot at the right time or by teams making crucial free throws down the stretch. In Saturday's loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State made 25 of its 34 free throw attempts, including several in the final minutes to keep the win intact.

"The biggest thing is that we have not rebounded it as well as we have rebounded it in the past, so we give people second chances," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins Monday on the Big 12 Coaches Teleconference.

"But nobody can guard the way the game has changed. (Rules changes) have made it very difficult for everybody. They got what they wanted, scores are much higher."

When WVU takes on Baylor Tuesday night in Waco, it will likely get the type of defensive challenge it hasn't seen in quite some time.

Like a lot of other teams it has seen up to this point in league play, Baylor has an ace in the hole when it comes to shooting the ball on the outside. Brady Heslip has gained a reputation over the course of the last few seasons as one of the conference's best shooters, and is second in the league in three-point field goal percentage.

But, with weapons like sophomore Isaiah Austin and senior Cory Jefferson, the Bears will be a test inside that West Virginia hasn't seen often this year. The Baylor frontcourt is loaded with athleticism and talent and could give a WVU frontcourt that is lacking depth fits all game.

"We understand how talented they are," Huggins said. "The thing that's hard is that they've got such great length."

Baylor is third in the league in rebounding this season and is the Big 12's best offensive rebounding team. West Virginia, meanwhile, is eighth in the conference in defensive rebounding and has struggled at times - including a loss to Texas - at keeping opponents off the offensive glass.

Austin, Jefferson and forward Rico Gathers have all had at least 20 putback opportunities this season. The trio's 78 second-chance tries account for 29 percent of their combined field goal attempts, and they are making better than 60 percent of those shots.

To make matters even tougher for WVU, the three Baylor bigs use that length to also create havoc for teams defensively.

"They play a lot of matchup zone and do a great job with it," Huggins said. "It's extra effective because of their ability to block shots."

If West Virginia is going to want to leave Waco with an important road victory, it will have to play well on both ends of the floor against a team that - although Baylor has been struggling as of late - has the talent to beat any team in the league.

Although it has been one of the most efficient offenses in the Big 12, ranking No. 2 in the league with an offensive ranking of 115.3, the Bears only average 66 possessions per 40 minutes. That's among the fewest number of possession per 40 minutes in the league. That fact could play well into the Mountaineers' favor Tuesday night.

The numbers show that West Virginia has been better slowing teams down when they go into their halfcourt sets more - giving up a lower field goal percentage and forcing more turnovers.

Like any game in this upcoming stretch, it's going to be important for West Virginia to gain confidence early, stay out of foul trouble and continue to take steps toward playing a complete 40 minutes.

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