Defense continues to be emphasis for WVU

Leading up to this season, Bob Huggins has been talking a lot about how this year's West Virginia men's basketball team will be one that gets back to the basic fundamentals his first few Mountaineer teams had of playing solid, unrelenting defense to help lead the way to victories.

And while it was just an exhibition against Shepherd to serve as one final bit of preparation before WVU opens the season with Monmouth next Friday, Sunday's showing provided some proof that this team could be one that does exactly what Huggins said it would.

"That's the key to what we do," said senior point guard Juwan Staten. "We want to extend our defense and try to bring that pressure the whole game to wear teams down.

"We want to just create havoc on defense."

From the jump, the Mountaineers were aggressive in their approach - extending the defensive pressure full court for the majority of the game. WVU was able to use its length and athleticism to cause problems early and often, limiting what the Rams were able to do even if the Mountaineers didn't have the start they wanted to.

It finally looked like the type of team Huggins had been hoping he would see from West Virginia the last few years. It seems like every year he would sit in his early preseason press conferences and talk about how WVU was a more athletic team, one that would be able to make plays on the defensive end and get out in the open court and run and put more points on the board. But each time WVU would think it had a team that could do that, it would see that there was still a ways to go. Now obviously it's not the best idea to take what happened Sunday as a definite sign of what was going to happen the rest of the season, but it looks like a step in the right direction for a much improved, more exciting West Virginia team.

The Mountaineers ran a variety of presses throughout the game - a diamond press, 2-2-1, full-court man, among others - and saw plenty of benefits from it, forcing 27 turnovers. The most important thing was that they were able to turn those turnovers into 43 points on the offensive end of the floor.

And for a team that lost its three best shooters a year ago and has been searching for a way to find some scoring, easy transition buckets can be the perfect answer to that important question.

"It kind of looked good in glimpses and that's going to be a key for this team," said junior forward Jonathan Holton. "You've got to have fun with it, we're all here to play. You've got to keep your confidence and you have to keep digging deep because (the coaches) are always going to call your number again."

Huggins and his coaching staff have plenty of numbers they can call this season. In fact, the veteran head coach has said during the preseason that he feels comfortable playing as many as 13 players on the Mountaineer roster - a far cry from the West Virginia team that was only able to go eight or nine-deep consistently for much of last season.

That's going to be a big help for this group when it comes to that high-tempo, high-pressure style of defense that it wants to play in order to make its opponents uncomfortable. A deeper bench means more guys that can come in and bring good intensity and play hard more frequently.

"That's the whole idea of pressing the way we do. When someone gets tired someone else can come in because we've got 13 guys who can play," said senior guard Gary Browne. "Obviously that isn't going to be the whole rotation the whole time because there will be times we go to our veteran guys or because guys aren't playing well, but we don't worry about that. We just focus on everybody playing hard and doing what we ask them to do."

The Mountaineers knew what they were signing up for this year, too. They could tell in the summer that this could be the type of team that plays that way. Even when they were just working out with one another in open gym they saw the potential for a group that could play defensively like this.

Which is good because you better be able to do that when you play for a coach like Huggins who expects that from all of his players every year.

"You have to if you want to play for Huggs. If you aren't going to come out and defend, you won't see that floor," said junior guard Jaysean Paige. "It makes you learn to love playing defense real quick."

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