On many occasions this year, West Virginia's full court defensive attack has paid immediate dividends. On many occasions, WVU has been able to jump out on top quickly while foes struggle to adjust to the tempo and in-your-face tactics of Mountaineer Mayhem. That wasn't the case, however, against Maryland in the NCAA Round of 32 on Sunday, when the Terps were able to offset nine first half turnovers (six by Dez Wells) with several easy hoops.
All year long, the press has been a tradeoff for WVU. Head coach Bob Huggins and staff know that there will be occasional breakdowns that lead to easy shots for opponents, but Maryland, outside of Wells, got far too many in the first 18 minutes of the game. Despite six giveaways to that point, Maryland led at 34-31, mostly due to the fact that star guard Melo Trimble was able to get the ball in the open court and attack into the lane without opposition, or find wide-open three point shooters who spotted up while Mountaineer defenders were chasing the ball downcourt and collapsing into the paint.
In the last couple of minutes, however, Press Virginia forced three Terp turnovers and converted them into a pair of buckets for a 35-34 lead, which set the stage for the key move of the game.
"We changed some things at halftime," assistant coach Larry Harrison told BlueGoldNews.com in an exclusive interview. "We went more to a contain type of press. The first half they got some runouts, and we were trailing them quite a bit. Melo [Trimble] got ahead of us. So, we decided to keep the pressure up but go more to the contain, to keep them in front of us."
Faced with a lack of success in the first half, many staffs might have elected to switch gears altogether, Certainly Trimble, who had 12 points in the opening half, was cutting up the Mountaineer defense. Rather than yield and go to zone, however, the WVU coaching staff went with the more subtle change. The Mountaineers moved away from trapping in the backcourt, instead waiting until certain players got the ball near the halfcourt line to spring traps, or sometimes falling back entirely before closing out to challenge those three-point shooters.
"As time went on in the second half, our guys said 'Coach, they're tired. Let's keep the pressure up,'"
--Assistant Coach Larry Harrison
In doing so, West Virginia not only cut down on Trimble's ability to operate in the open floor, but also limited other Terrapins on drives to the hoop, and were better positioned to defend those spotting up for jumpers.
A quick look at the stats validates the strength of the change. WVU forced 14 Maryland turnovers in the second half while limiting Terrapin long-range gunners to just two makes in ten tries from the floor after yielding six of nine in the opening 20 minutes. That allowed WVU to open a bit of breathing room on the scoreboard, as Maryland was held without a field goal for 6:38 in the middle of the half.
"As time went on in the second half, our guys said 'Coach, they're tired. Let's keep the pressure up,'" Harrison related. "When Melo went out, we went more to what we did in the first half. Then when he came back in, we went back to more of the contain. [Melo] was the only guy who could beat us off the bounce. We wanted Wells to hand;e it. Looking at the stats we knew he turned it over a lot. It all came together."
Contributing to the decision was the tracking not only of turnovers, but also of the types of turnovers, success in getting to the ball, and even opponent success. All of those numbers are analyzed by the Mountaineer staff, and help determine what adjustments get made.
"We keep track of deflections, lay-ups they make against our pressure, how many times we trap them and they throw it out and convert, all of that," Harrison noted. "In the first half we felt they were throwing the ball over us and Melo was getting it and making good decisions. SO we had to back off and contain, but we still felt we had to make them work to get the ball in bounds, and to try to trap Melo and make him give the ball up, and then work to give the ball back and try to wear him out."
That they did, and even though it wasn't in the plan for Trimble to be concussed by his own teammate and removed from the game, it was clear that West Virginia's tactics were bearing fruit. Trimble scored just three points in 11 minutes of second half action before being forced leave the game, and the Terps averaged a turnover per minute in the last eight minutes of contest. By then, WVU had seized control, having throttled the Maryland offense with five-second calls, steals and rushed shots against harassing defense.