There are plans. And then there's reality. Often, in sports, the two don't mesh. Teams enter games with the former, neatly laid out by coaching staffs and buttressed with scouting reports, only to see them destroyed by talented opposing players, countering tactics, or failures in execution. But on Friday night in the Big 12 semifinals, everything clicked for West Virginia. Somewhere, you could hear the A-Team's Hannibal Smith grinning, "I love it when a plan comes together".
Of course, every team this year that faced Oklahoma had a plan for limiting conference player of the year Buddy Hield. And every team saw it fail. Hield scored in double digits in every contest in his senior season, routinely topping 20 and getting 30 or more ten times. His lowest scoring output of the year prior to this one (12) came against deliberate Wisconsin, which plays at a snail-like pace. He averaged 23 in two previous games against the Mountaineers. Yet, in this contest, he was shut down.
It wasn't just a matter of Hield having an off night, although he did shoot 12.5% from the field (1-8). It was the fact that he got away only ten shot attempts in all (he went to the free throw line twice on shooting fouls). WVU didn't just have people in his face when he shot. On most possessions, it either denied him the ball altogether or made him give it up in the face of withering pressure.
"It was similar to what we did in our first game in Norman, but we also shrunk the floor," assistant coach Ron Everhart said. We told the kids when we do trap, we want to make it more of a 54 foot game, not 94 feet. We shrunk the distance."
That tactic limited Hield's touches in the open court, where he is so dangerous. WVU tried to deny him the ball everywhere, but really put the clamps on when he did get it on the offensive end. Using waves of players, spearheaded by Daxter Miles, the Mountaineers routinely had two players closing in when he did manage to get the ball.
"We had the right guy in Dax Miles," Everhart said. "And then we were able to keep fresh bodies on him. We really did a good job of face guarding him. But the big key was that every time Buddy was in a ball screen situation we trapped him. I felt like our big guys really did a heck of a job hedging out on him and trapping him. Hats off to the kids. They gave us a great effort."
That, of course, was at the heart of the success against Hield, and what lies as the foundation of any play. WVU trapped relentlessly against him in the halfcourt, but the Sooners rarely made WVU pay for leaving players open that were just one pass away. West Virginia scrambled very well to cover the backside and against skip passes, and although OU was able to spot up some players for open threes (it made 11 of 21 attempts) they weren't enough to overcome the 21 turnovers forced, or the scant six points on Hield's ledger. Against the pressure, Hield managed just two assists while suffering three turnovers, and for long stretches of the game simply wasn't a factor on offense.
It was, in summation, worthy of Smith and his A-Team.