Foreign Territory

West Virginia's sparkling performances in football and men's basketball this year have me examining the way I look at games.

Over much of my rooting life, I've goine into games hoping that the Mountaineers could win. Of course, there, were always games against Southern Illinois Normal or Northwest Area Regional Teachers' College that I wasn't too worried about, but many of the contests were tossups at best, which resulted in a lot of angst on my part.

Even during my college career (1980-84), which was one of the best combined eras in WVU history, there were games in which the Mountaineers didn't seem to have much of a chance -- opinions that were often borne out on the scoreboard at game's end.

This year, however, has been something quite different. Although I am routinely flogged by by counterparts for being too pessimistic, my outlook on WVU's chances in most games this year has been good. I don't say that to make it sound like I predicted West Virginia's meteoric rise up the polls, but rather to point out that WVU's play has changed the way in which I view games. Road trips to Oklahoma, Villanova, and UCLA? No problem. I know that West Virginia hoop team has the stability and maturity to handle any situation. Face Georgia in a de facto home contest in a bowl game? Not a big deal -- the football squad has shown poise beyond its years.

Of course, this doesn't mean that WVU is going to win all of these games. The football team stumbled against Virginia Tech, and the basketballers likewise had, and will likely have, similar dips in performance. However, there's not a game which I think WVU doesn't have a chance to win these days.

Part of that is a result of riding the wave of euphoria after each win. Twelve consecutive wins in hoops, combined with a one-loss football season, tends to put us high on the enthusiasm scale. But part of it is also coming to realize, after trying to stay cautious and conservative, that the Mountaineers are pretty darn good. No, make that really good.

I certainly don't expect WVU to run the table in basketball. The Big East is too good for that. And I won't think the season is a failure if the Mountaineers don't win the Big East tournament or win a couple of games in the NCAAs. But for now, every time it takes the court, West Virginia has a good chance to win. It just took me a while to realize that.

* * *

Mike Gansey's heroics quite rightly dominated the game coverage of the UCLA win. The subplot was Darris Nichols, who quite ably filled in for J.D. Collins while the latter was sidelined with foul trouble. However, one item that escaped attention was the rebounding numbers of one impending father-to-be.

Despite an poor shooting afternoon, Kevin Pittsnogle was still a big part of WVU's 60-56 win over UCLA on Saturday. Why? Nine big reasons - the rebounds he snared against UCLA's athletic front line.

As I've noted previously, Pittsnogle's defense and rebounding have improved dramatically this year, but the Martsinburg, W. Va., native hasn't gotten much credit for it. That happened again against UCLA, as the only mention of his play focused on his 4-15 shooting (0-5 from three-point range). However, all those snap judgments missed the nine rebounds and two blocked shots he recorded - plays that certainly made a big difference in the big road win.

The big guy has 32 rebounds in West Virginia's last four games. If he continues at that pace, WVU is going to be, in the words of Norman Dale, "a tough team to beat".

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