Countering Runs

They are part of any basketball game, and in a typical contest each team will get a couple. So what does a team do to help break the momentum when an opponent rips off several unanswered baskets?

Other than the obvious timeout call by the coach to help calm his team, there's not a lot of magic or fancy play diagramming going on to try to stem the tide. In fact, when West Virginia is faced with a run, the Mountaineers, true to the style of head coach John Beilein, often returns to the basics.

"When coach calls a timeout, he tries to call a play that we are familiar with," Joe Herber said after the Villanova game, when the Mountaineers staved off a 20-2 run to grab an important conference victory. "They're the ones that we could wake up at 12:00 at night and run. We did a good job of that today - we got a couple of layups and Tyrone and D'or got dunks. We have some plays that we can go to that are really positive."

Of course, a dunk is an emphatic way to turn the momentum of any run, especially when the home crowd is out of the game and looking for a reason to get back into it. Herber and Sally connected on just such a play with 5:08 to go in the contest, as Sally's rim rattling jam and even bigger yell propelled the Mountaineers to a six-point lead and got everyone back into the contest.

"Anytime you get one like that it's good," Sally said with a smile as he recalled his game-changing throwdown. "And when it helps break a run, it's better. Then, you try to take the energy from that and use it on the defensive end."

Although it's just good for two points, the same as a pair of free throws, it's the perception of the points that seems to matter more. On this play, the Mountaineers seemed to say, 'O.K., you've had your moment in the sun, now we're taking the game back.'

Of course, those types of plays don't always happen. And when they don't come, the key, according to Sally is to keep calm.

"We just want to maintain and stay cool," WVU's junior forward said, who is the epitome of cool. "We want to stay together and not get frustrated or have the team fall apart."

It's obvious that Sally has learned that lesson well, as Beilein expressed the smae sentiment a few minutes later.

"We told the team at halftime that Villanova would put together two or three runs. We just told them to make the big shot and keep their cool out there," the veteran head coach noted, who has probably seen more runs that the Hanes pantyhose factory.

It helps to have a coaching staff that doesn't freak out at the first sign of trouble, either. Sneak a peak at the Mountaineer bench while things are going sour, and you don't see a lot of yelling or screaming. Beilein might be calling a play, while Jeff Neubauer or Matt Brown might be talking to an individual player about an adjustment, but there's rarely any sign of panic. And when a timeout is called, the level of calmness probably goes higher. Beilein will call that play, usually with input from his coaching staff, and more often than not the Mountaineers will score, or at least get a good shot.

The end result of all this is that WVU has answered runs very well this year, even when the run seems to go on forever. Although the Mountaineers sometimes haven't been able to get over the top and get a win, they have been able, by using many of the methods discussed here, to either get back into the game or at least stem the tide. For a team that typically doesn't score points in bunches, stopping a run and mounting one of their own would seem to be a difficult task, but this West Virginia team seems to be able to do it. Whether it's a Herber drive, a Fischer or Sally dunk, or a big three from Pittsnogle or Patrick Beielin, the feeling is that the stopper is going to be made.


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