Following a loss to Baylor, a game in which the Bears shot 54 percent and scored on 20 of their 25 possessions in the second half, Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins pointed out his team's lack of commitment on the defensive end and talked about how much more WVU desperately needed in buy in before it would continue to make any more strides as the season was preparing to enter the final stretch leading up to March.
On Saturday, it looked like that was going to be another point of emphasis for the veteran head coach. West Virginia allowed TCU to shoot 50 percent from the field and the much-inferior Horned Frogs were right in the game, trailing by just three points as the teams went into the locker room. After that, WVU did what it had been trying to do for a long time in conference play.
The Mountaineers guarded, and they ran away with the game en route to an 81-59 victory.
West Virginia has been trying to find the right defense to run in close games and tight situations, but to no avail. As Eron Harris would admit after the game, there just isn't a defense that the Mountaineers have been able to use that has been able to consistently slow opponents down enough to give them a chance to win a lot of close games. Whether or not they found that in the form of the 3-2 matchup zone they ran for the majority of the second half has yet to be seen, but it was definitely a big difference in Saturday's victory.
When they switched to the zone, the Mountaineers outscored TCU 42-23 in the second half. The Horned Frogs made just eight of their 27 attempts from the field (29 percent) in the final 20 minutes of play and turned the ball over six times.
After the game, Huggins talked about the difficulties that the defense forced TCU to overcome because the Mountaineers put 6-foot-8 freshman Nathan Adrian at the top of the key. Having his height up top made it tough for the TCU point guards to be able to make decisions when they needed to and allowed the WVU defense to have that much more of an advantage as it began to have its way with the Horned Frogs.
It was the first time the Mountaineers gave up less than 60 points in a game since beating William & Mary at the end of December, and the first time WVU gave up less than 70 points in Big 12 play since its Jan. 28 victory in Waco against Baylor.
West Virginia still believes that it has a chance to make the NCAA tournament with two games left in the regular season. And with Terry Henderson out for the time being, the Mountaineers are more than likely going to have a hard time continuing scoring at the pace they have for the most part this season. Because of that, it's going to be even more important that they can continue to make these improvements defensively.
It'll be tougher than it was Saturday with Oklahoma and Kansas on the horizon, but they have to be able to do that in order to continue moving on the right track. It all starts with that commitment that Huggins talked about in the past.
If the Mountaineers are committed and are ready to keep getting better, things can keep going the way they want them to – especially if they can play the way they did in the second half against TCU.