Adrian Fills Void For WVU

As a player who often held a distinct height advantage over his opponents throughout his basketball career, Nathan Adrian might have been expected, at some point, to have patrolled the lane or played with his back to the basket. But after receiving the call to do so to help a suddenly-depleted West Virginia front line, he revealed that wasn't the case.

"Never," the sophomore forward said with a rueful smile when asked the last time he regularly posted up on the blocks or played with his back to the basket. "I never have."

Given Adrian's sweet shooting stroke, it's understandable that his game is more face-up oriented, and one that feeds off step-in jumpers and long 3-pointers. However, when West Virginia lost four bigs in quick succession at the start of the 2014-15 season, it was on the Morgantown native to step into the gap.

"It was something different," Adrian admitted, who had just a day or so of prep to fill in for BillyDee Williams, Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins and Kevin Noreen, all of whom missed Sunday's game against Lafayette. "It's not a normal position I'm comfortable with but with Elijah and Billydee and Brandon all out, I had to step in and play it and try to rebound."

Adrian filled that role will, grabbing seven in 23 minutes of playing time. Given the manner in which Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton gobbled up caroms off the glass (26 combined), his total was noteworthy. It helped WVU build a 50-31 overall advantage in rebounding. Six of his retrievals came on the offensive end, which allowed West Virginia more chances to shoot. The Mountaineers ended up taking 35 more shots than the Leopards, as they grabbed 26 misses on the offensive end.

While that aspect of play was a success, shooting was again a bit of a problem. Adrian missed all five of his attempts, which included a pair of 3-point tries. He admitted that playing the different spot might have bothered him a bit.

"It's just a mindset coming in," he said of his thought process to playing inside with his back to the hoop. "I was more focused on playing down low. It might have messed with my head a little bit but it shouldn't do that."

An excellent passer, Adrian is also expected to be able to find teammates when giving the ball up from the blocks. He passed out of some double teams well on Sunday, and came up with two assists in the process.

"He should be a really good four because he can pass it and he understand how to play," head coach Bob Huggins said afterward. "He just can't make a shot right now. But when he can, he makes a pretty effective four."

While Adrian would likely be more comfortable playing at the three, developing his skills at the four would make him more difficult to defend, and would also put him in line for more minutes on the court. For now, though, even with his wishes for better health and circumstances for his teammates, he's likely going to see more time at the big man spots.

"We had to [play him there]," Huggins noted. He's going to have to play there for a while until we can get everybody back."

The timetable for return of the bigs is unknown right now. Watkins, who has been sick and looked totally wrung out on Friday, should at least travel to Puerto Rico, but his stamina will clearly be in question even if he is able to play. Williams is reportedly set to have surgery on his fractured orbital bone this week, and Huggins did not offer any prognosis on his return. Macon, who returned home to attend his critically ill mother, obviously has more important things to worry about, while Noreen will be out at least until next year, and perhaps could have played his last game at West Virginia.

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