"They were just coming right at us, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said of the stretch.
Faced with a style of play that heavily contributed to earlier losses this year, Huggins switched gears, going to a zone defense that combines elements of a couple of different looks the Mountaineers have deployed over past seasons, as well as parts of its "Press Virginia" strategy. Aligning in a 1-1-3 zone as the ball crossed halfcourt, the Mountaineers got away from all-out full court pressure, and deployed Jevon Carter as the defender at the point. That allowed them to play Juwan Staten, who was clearly hurting with an upper leg injury, as the second guard, which has less defensive area to cover. The 1-1-3 takes on the look of a 1-3-1 at times when the ball goes to the wing, but it doesn't put a small defender on the back line. It also still allows traps when the situation warrants.
"We've been working on it in practice some, and we can still trap on the wings," Carter said afterward. "It's up to the forward and the guard, but if they think they can trap, then we do it."
The move clearly befuddled Texas, which scored just six points over the next nine minutes of action. Four of those points came on fast break lay-ups after steals, with the other two coming from free throws. Against the zone, UT couldn't find a set or execute as it had against the man-to-man, and fell completely out of rhythm.
"We wanted to make Texas pass it more and slow it down," Huggins noted. "We can throw it [the zone] out there to change the tempo."That it did, although Barnes observed that he did have a plan in place to combat it.
"We didn't do what we wanted to do. The cutters weren't there. We played against it last year and we know what to do against it."Barnes wasn't finished, though. Trailing by ten with time running down, Barnes deployed a full court press of his own. With Staten ailing, West Virginia was deprived of its most explosive weapon in the open court, and the Horns responded by forcing a couple of turnovers and cutting the lead to as few as three points with 27 seconds to play. It was another good move by the veteran Texas coach, and one that he might not have made were Staten at full strength, but one that gave Texas a chance to win coming down the stretch. West Virginia managed to hold on due to unexpected free throw prowess (11-12 in the final 2:46).
The back-and-forth, punch-and-counterpunch nature of the game highlighted the moves of each coaching staff, and also pointed out how very close most games are, and how just one move can make the difference between a win and a loss. Both Barnes and Huggins made excellent moves throughout the contest, with each reacting to the game flow and moves of the opponents to chart their next tactical change. Just a shot or two either way could have changed the outcome, but on this night it was Huggins' move to the halfcourt zone that proved to be the winning choice.