Which is why it was no surprise to see the Mountaineers head into the press conferences leading up to Thursday’s Sweet 16 showdown against No. 1 Kentucky step up to the podium with the same belief in themselves that they’ve had all season.
In order for the Mountaineers to shock the college basketball world and beat the heavily favored Wildcats, it all starts - as it has all season long - with their daunting full-court pressure that has made every team so uncomfortable all season long. The relentless pressure is something that WVU feels that Kentucky’s talented ball-handlers haven’t seen yet this year.
“Everybody that we play, their guards, they can break the press - I mean at the beginning of the first half they might be making good decisions,” said senior guard Gary Browne. “But then they don’t realize they don’t have enough depth on their bench and the second half, it’s going to catch up. Sometimes during the game, we can see it. I feel like the whole bench, the whole team can realize that and that's when we know, we go harder and more aggressive.”
After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA tournament, the Mountaineers are back in the Sweet 16 - and have been able to get there by proving doubters wrong along the way the entire time. It started in the first two rounds when not many people picked them to get past Buffalo and Maryland, and will continue this week as it looks like the odds are against them once again.
But they’re fine with that. As long as they continue handling it the way they have all season long.
”You know, honestly, tomorrow, we need to go out and have fun and just be together,” said sophomore forward Devin Williams. “At the end of the day, it's really just about us going out there and just competing as hard as we can and just going out and having fun and soaking up the moment.”
Thursday night, the lights will be brighter than they’ve ever been for West Virginia as the Mountaineers will be on the biggest stage they’ve been on as a program in five years.
And as they head into that challenge, they’re just trying to do just that - have fun, remember what they’ve done up to this point in the season to have their success and understand to keep moving toward their ultimate goal of making the Final Four and playing for a championship, a goal that seems to be getting closer and closer to being within their grasp every day.
“We remember the 6 a.m. workouts and all the stuff we’ve gone through to get here,” said junior guard Jaysean Paige. “We feel like all that work we did, it can all pay off now. You work all that time for the couple months that we actually get to go out and play this game, and now it all comes down to this where it’s do or die - it’s win or go home. This is where we get the chance to showcase our talents.
“So why not go out there and leave it all on the court for 40 minutes?”