We'd be remiss at BlueGoldNews.com if we didn't offer every bit of coverage possible. So here's a series of interviews from the victors in the 4 vs 13 match-up from WVU's victory over Bucknell. Above, Tarik Phillip offers his thoughts on West Virginia's ability to get to the rim and create fouls late, and his mental approach to the situation late when West Virginia led 77-72 with one minute remaining. Phillip hit six consecutive free throws in the last 60 seconds to ensure WVU finished the game and emerged with the victory. It was part of a 9-fo-10 effort from the Mountaineers from the line in the final minute.
"We were in the bonus. I knew if we got fouled we'd go to the rim and that was going to mean free throws, so we stayed in attack mode, to be honest," Phillip said. "I wasn't trying to settle. I settled one time and the team told me 'Don't settle. Drive, drive.' I felt like if we moved the ball a little better we would have shots. We were trying to value the ball. Coach always says turnovers and free throws are going to be the death of us, so if you limit turnovers and hit free throws we are going to have a great chance to win."
The contrast between this game and some of the recent ones - like against Kansas State - where West Virginia left valuable points at the line was stark. WVU capitalized on the essentially free points, and sealed a much-needed win to keep the door open for a successful season.
"We always make a lot of free throws," said Phillip, who finished 7-for-7 from the line and scored a team-high 16 points. "Coach makes us make 100 before we leave practice so it's the hard work paying off."
The Mountaineers also managed to control the boards against a lesser foe, as expected. West Virginia had a plus-10 edge in rebounds alone (42-32) and also had a whopping 17 on the offensive glass. West Virginia's bigs managed Bucknell in that category, but were routinely challenged by Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year Nana Foulland, who hit for 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting. The 6-8 Foulland also had seven rebounds and three blocks, and proved he belonged on the stage against a major conference opponent.
"It's all about will," Brandon Watkins said. "If you want the rebound, you are going to get it. We knew if we outrebounded them we would have a good chance to win. We are a little banged up, a little fatigued, but we want to continue playing."
The major issue for West Virginia was its penchant to go for steals and disruption of passing lanes without regard to timing or angles. The Mountaineers were often out of position for the steal, and as a result overran plays and caused issues on the back end, where teammates had to adjust to the miscues. It allowed Bucknell both looks and points it never should have had, and kept the contest closer than anticipated.
"We were a little slow on the reaction," Watkins said. "We are going to work on that, try to speed it up a little bit. That was our only problem. We laid it down a little bit and maybe we got tired. We had a chance to seal the game early. Runs are going to happen. Get a stop and once we get a stop it will snowball for us and they made some runs but we kept it at eight to seven (points). We won, we shared he ball. Everybody got the ball and we were all it it and enthused. We did OK. We didn't do our best, but we did OK and they got a little tired."
The win advances the Mountaineers (27-8) to the second round, where they will play fifth-seeded Notre Dame, a 60-58 survivor with a victory over 12th-seeded Princeton.