Key Stretch Propelled WVU Past UConn

Juwan Staten was stellar down the stretch, and West Virginia got offensive contributions from up and down its roster, but the real key to the Mountaineers' 78-68 win over UConn lay in the way it handled a critical stretch in the second half.

Over the past few seasons, West Virginia has been plagued by lengthy spells in which it can't seem to buy a bucket. Many of these periods stretched four or five minutes or more, and allowed foes to either rally or EXTEND their leads to the point where a WVU comeback was out of the picture. Scoring droughts aren't uncommon, of course, but the Mountaineers seemed prone to suffer them at the worst possible moments in games.

With consistent halfcourt scoring a question mark on this year's team, it wasn't a surprise when a similar stretch unfolded against the Huskies. At the start of the second half, the Mountaineers led UConn by 15 points, but less than four minutes later saw that advantage cut to just six. During that time, a lone 3-pointer by Daxter Miles accounted for WVU's entire offensive output.

That stretch was bad enough, but what unfolded next could have been a complete disaster. Following Miles' shot, the Mountaineers scored just four more points over the next nine minutes, giving them a total of seven points with the final period nearly halfway gone. Ordinarily, that would have put West Virginia in dire straits. However, WVU's defense was able to similarly throttle UConn after its opening blitz and keep the lead from falling below six points. For a nearly seven minute stretch covering much the same timeframe, the Mountaineers held the Huskies to just three points.

WVU did so with a combination of abilities that could wind up being the genetic markers of this team. A steal by Tarik Phillip negated a UConn offensive rebound and scoring chance. A Gary Browne pickpocket negated another offensive possession, and excellent defensive rebounding prohibited many second chances. And there was that nagging press, which resulted in a couple of "unforced" errors and also contributed, according to head coach Bob Huggins, UConn's offensive jump shooting woes.

Had UConn just continued its normal scoring pace, the Huskies would have taken the lead and likely changed the tenor of the game. Instead, it was West Virginia's defense that helped it weather another desert-dry scoring drought to find the oasis of victory.

Can West Virginia count on winning games when it scores in single digits over ten minutes of game action? As a rule, no. However, what the UConn win does show is that bad offensive stretches don't immediately spell doom for its chances. That knowledge might also serve to lessen some of the pressure when WVU gets the ball, as the Mountaineers will know that they don't have to score every time down in order to keep pace. That's a small psychological gain, but if it helps WVU in even one game this year, then it's another chance for a win that might have been a loss in previous campaign.

All of this is predicated on West Virginia maintaining its defensive intensity each time out. As fans have seen across college sports, that's not an easy thing to do, and few teams are able to come out with it time and again. However, if this is a part of West Virginia's core makeup this season, it could be an attribute that pushes it to higher achievements than many thought possible.

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