A Tale of Two Halves

For almost 30 minutes of action, it appeared as though a repeat of last year's triumph over the Florida Gators was a real possibility.

John Beilein's Mountaineer hoops squad was making crisp passes, playing solid defense, converting almost every opportunity and playing perhaps its best basketball of the year. But suddenly, the temporary lull that has reared its ugly head in every game this season once again made an unwanted appearance, and a talented Florida Gator team took full advantage of the mistakes to earn an important win in the Orange Bowl Classic.

It was Florida that started the game on a hot streak, as the Gators quickly opened up a 10-3 advantage with just 2:31 into the opening period. David Lee picked up right where he left off last year in Charleston, by scoring five of his teams first 10 points to bring the UF faithful who had made the trip south to Miami to its feet.

But West Virginia was not intimidated as it fought back to score the games next six points to take its first lead of the game at 11-10. D'or Fischer came into the game at the 17 minute mark and made an immediate impact. Putting his inside presence to work, the big junior quickly scored a contested bucket and was sent to the foul line to convert the old fashion three-point play. Freshman Tyler Relph repeated the feat the modern way, and WVU found itself with the lead. The two squads exchanged a couple of scores before a Frank Young three-point bomb from the corner gave the Mountaineers a 16-13 advantage, and it would be a long while before the Gators would again find themselves on top.

West Virginia continued to confuse the nation's 15th-ranked team, using a variety of defenses to keep the young squad guessing. It seemed as though everything was going the way of the Blue & Gold, as Beilein, Fischer, and Herber all found the mark from downtown, while Fischer cleaned up underneath. The largest lead of the opening period came at the 3:34 mark when a long D'or Fischer jumper put the Mountaineers ahead 30-23. The Gators would cut that margin to three at 32-29, but a Schifino slashing bucket and the ensuing free throw put WVU on top 35-29 as the teams headed to the lockerroom.

Whatever Florida coach Billy Donovan told his team at the break should be put on tape for coaches around the country, because the Gators came out ready to play and looked like a different team in the opening minutes of the second half. An aggressive full court press quickly led to two straight West Virginia turnovers and a thunderous Matt Walsh dunk at the other end. The press would hinder Beilein's troops all evening as Florida continued to chip away at the lead.

After turning the ball over just three times in the first 20 minutes, West Virginia ended the contest with 17 giveaways, and the mistakes were usually converted to points on the other end. With 13:05 still showing on the American Airlines Arena clock, the WVU lead had been completely erased as an Anthony Roberson jumper tied the game at 42.

The Gators would not look back, as they continued to pressure the flustered Mountaineer guards into mistake after mistake and the lead began to grow. After Drew Schifino converted on just one of two attempts from the line to make the score 49-43 in favor of the Gators, Donovan's former number one Florida team went on a 9-0 run to open up a 15 point lead at 58-43 with just under 6:30 to play. The run was just part of an even larger period in which the Mountaineers were outscored 29-8.

The closing minutes would not be as lopsided, but it was too little too late for the Blue & Gold. Florida simply used the clock and continued to force West Virginia into turnovers and poor shots. The final result was never again in doubt, as the Gators cruised to a 70-57 win to move to 6-2 on the young season. The Mountaineers fell to 5-3 on what has been a roller coaster start.

Drew Schifino once again led the way for WVU, scoring 15 points and dishing out four assists. It was not the junior's best outing, however, as he connected on just five of 14 attempts from the field while turning it over three times. D'or Fischer continued to impress Mountaineer followers, pulling down a team high five rebounds, rejecting two Florida shot attempts, and adding 12 points of offense. Freshman point guard Tyler Relph matched Fischer's point total while pulling down three rebounds and recording an equal number of steals.

West Virginia will have eight days to right the ship and figure out a way to compete against a full court press before it returns to the WVU Coliseum on December 28th for a 2 p.m. tip with IP-Fort Wayne.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories