West Virginia, as usual, applied its full court pressure, and San Diego State (4-3) couldn't handle it. The Mountaineers forced 21 Aztec turnovers and totally disrupted their halfcourt offense on the way to a 72-50 win and the championship of the tournament. San Diego State was able to get away just 38 shots in the game, making just 34%, while WVU was 27-62 from the field. The Aztecs also failed to make a 3-pointer.
To be sure, San Diego State had its defensive moments too. It disrupted West Virginia's halfcourt sets, forcing four shot clock violations and causing a number of other hurried or rushed attempts. Early on, the Aztecs also bothered the Mountaineers (6-0) in the lane, blocking several shots, and finishing up with ten rejections. Good as those efforts were, they weren't close to equaling the havoc caused by the relentless defense of Press Virginia. Even when WVU didn't get a steal or a turnover, it forced the Aztecs to play at a pace that exceeded their comfort zone, and the discombobulation they showed in the halfcourt was easy to see.
The Aztecs also tried to turn the tables on WVU a bit, as they put some pressure of their own on the Mountaineers up the floor, but it had little effect. It may have contributed to a couple of the hurried shots that WVU was forced to take, but in the end West Virginia was the clear winner in the battle of defenses.
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"Jaysean was great," said Huggins, one night after he dressed down his guard for some sloppy play. Paige hit back-to-back threes, then drove for a lay-up into the teeth of a San Diego State defense for another score. That comprised more than half of a 15-0 run that put the Mountaineers ahead 19-6, giving them a cushion that the Aztecs were never able to erase.
Foul trouble kept Paige, who finished with ten points, from doing even more damage. He managed just nine minutes in the midst of picking up four fouls, two of which were bumps and reach-ins which are automatic calls this year. Eliminating those decisions will make him even more valuable for a team that needs players who can score consistentlyin the halfcourt.
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Every team seems to have a player that becomes a target of some derision from a segment of the fanbase, but the funny thing about that is that those players are usually guys who contribute in a variety of ways, and who do things that don't necessarily show up in the box score. At WVU, players like J.D. Collins, Alex Ruoff and Truck Bryant have been in that spotlight, and over the past two years it's been Nathan Adrian. While the state native has struggled at times, he also brings a lot to the table, and played well in the win.
"Nate does a lot of things for you," Huggins said afterward. "I told him before the game, 'You are a good player. Will you just go play and enjoy it and play with some confidence?'"
Adrian did that, hitting a three to get WVU's offense jump started. He finished with five points and three rebounds, recorded a steal and again was vital on the front of WVU's attacking press, where he pressures the inbounds pass then looks to set up a double team once the ball gets into play. Is he WVU's MVP? No. But he's a good player, and sometime this season he's going to be the difference between a win and a loss.
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San Diego State came in with the clear goal of taking Devin Williams out of the West Virginia offense, and it succeeded -- for a half. In the opening 20 minutes, the Aztecs ran two, and sometimes even three, defenders at the powerful forward, holding him without a point and limiting him to just two rebounds while forcing him into four turnovers. If Williams wasn't frustrated, he was the next thing to it.
In the second half, Williams came out on a mission. He got deeper into the post when he rolled down out of WVU's high post offensive series, getting the ball closer to the rim for good shots. He made five of his eight chances in the final half, and added seven rebounds to his total, narrowly missing a sixth consecutive double-double.
While it's never good for a player to have a subpar half or game, this might end up being beneficial for WVU in the long run. The Aztecs clearly thought the key to beating WVU was stopping Williams, but the result showed that taking him out of the game isn't a guarantee to success. West Virginia did just what it needed to do, as it put together a team effort with players up and down the lineup contributing in a variety of ways. WVU made just enough shots from the perimeter to keep the Aztecs from totally collapsing inside. It got very balanced scoring, with four others reaching double figures. Everyone chipped in on the boards, as nine players had at least three rebounds. That, in the end, might be the best takeway from this game -- other the the Championship Trophy, that is.