Forward Adds Size, Shooting And Defensive Match-Up Ability For West Virginia During Key Stretch

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If Nathan Adrian showed anything in the victory over Baylor, it was that he is blissfully unaware in the best of ways.

With Adrian having totalled 11 points and nine rebounds - and the Mountaineers having secured what would eventually be an 80-69 final - an opportunity for another board presented itself. Instead of battling a teammate for the carom, Adrian simply turned up the floor to ready himself for the offensive possession.

"That would have been his 10th rebound? That stinks," Jaysean Paige said afterward. "He played his tail off, double-double or not. Hey, that's a double-double in my book."

And West Virginia got a win-win as Adrian paired the ability to defend via his length and footwork with his trademark dose of unselfishness. Adding a key late three-pointer and multiple inside buckets only polished the performance as another clutch one in the absence of Jonathan Holton, still indefinitely suspended for a violation of team rules.

"I think (the suspension) has given Nate an opportunity to play, and to play with some confidence," head coach Bob Huggins said. "I think he has been really good. I thought he was really good defensively for us, and he got nine rebounds and 11 points. That's a pretty good day."

In truth, Adrian showed capable of playing at a high level in his first start of the season, that coming against Kansas State two days before Holton was suspended on Jan. 28. With Esa Ahmad sidelined by a sprained knee, Adrian got the start and played alongside Holton while putting up 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting with three rebounds over 21 minutes. The forward has remained in the line-up during the thus-far three-game suspension, his minutes ranging from the 23 played in the 81-76 road win at Iowa State to a season-high 32 against Baylor. That came within two of tying his career-best of 34 set versus TCU his freshman season.

"We know Nate can play," Daxter Miles said the day before the game. "We've seen what he can do. I think every light shines bright at different times."

While the statistics have been impressive, with double-digit scoring in three of four starts added to 19 total rebounds, Adrian's true value is what doesn't show in the box score - at least among his line. He hassles opposing players via 6-9 frame and exceptional length, and has the footwork and balance to remain largely in front of all but the best straight line drivers. His defensive versatility is perhaps the best on the team, Adrian having guarded a smorgasbord of guards and forwards both on the perimeter and on the inside. And his tenacity in the press, and ability either guard the inbounds or play a wing to trap, gives Huggins options within WVU's pressure.

"He's been playing real well," guard Jaysean Paige said. "He's stepped up. He's been playing his tail off, knocking down shots. It's a hard task for somebody to come in and guard one of the best scorers in the league, and I thought he did a good job on Taurean Prince."

Prince entered as Baylor's leading scorer, averaging 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Adrian held the All-Big 12 player - who was just named a finalist for the Karl Malone award as the nation's best power forward - to 10 points on 5-of-17 shooting, including misfires on all five three-pointers. The 29.4 shooting percentage from the floor was well below Prince's 41.7 average. 

Adrian also forced a turnover of Prince toward the end of the first half when he created a loose ball, then dove on the floor to secure it. Prince got tangled in the scramble, and was eventually whistled for a foul. Adrian hit both resulting free throws for a 38-29 lead, then again defended Prince on the ensuing possession as Baylor failed to get a shot off over the final 30 seconds of the half.

"We wanted to attack their zone down low, which I thought we did pretty well," Adrian said. "Then play solid D."

Mission accomplished. And with it, so was 14th-ranked West Virginia's move into sole possession of first place in the Big 12, with a major contest looming at No. 7 Kansas on Tuesday; No. 1 Oklahoma (19-3, 7-3) lost to Kansas State to slide into second, one game behind the Mountaineers, now 19-4 overall, 8-2 in the Big 12.

"I heard about it after the game," Adrian said of OU's loss. "Nobody was really worried about that. We just needed to get our win. It's something we are proud of, and we've worked hard for it."

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