Should senior-oriented WVU trail early, it would be tempted to press a bit itself – not in the basketball sense, but in executing its patient set offense and play calls. And that's exactly what U of L head coach Rick Pitino desires.
"We have to play with a high basketball IQ and execute extremely well," WVU head coach John Beilein said.
The Mountaineers did that last year in the Elite Eight 93-85 overtime loss. It could not have executed much better than 18 of 27 from 3-point range (66.7 percent). This season, though, WVU has a decided experience edge over athletically-gifted Louisville.
"We have to execute and be really calm," Pat Beilein said. "They pressured us last year and got a few baskets out of it and that might have been the difference in the game. But we have seen all types of pressure defenses in our four years."
The Cardinals will test that. They start three guards and are quicker with the replacements for injured to center David Padgett. Louisville also switches pressure for a myriad of reasons, all with the common theme of having better athletes that win games of attrition.
"It's not just one set press attack," John Beilein said. "It's multiple looks and changing pressure. It is designed to attack, to look for turnovers, to tire out players, to create confusion, to shorten the game, to make the shot clock shorter, maybe you get into your plays with 22 or 20 seconds instead of 27."
The goal will be to allow ball-handlers like J.D. Collins and Jo Herber to dribble while others free themselves for passes past halfcourt or for easy scores – the exit ticket to a press.
"The best way to beat a press is to get easy scores. That relaxes it some," Herber said. "We have to get it inside more, too, to Kevin (Pittsnogle). He has to be more physical and bully them a bit."
Translation: More free throws. Decidedly more than the zero West Virginia took in the 60-58 loss at Syracuse – the first time a WVU team did not shoot a free throw since a 29-16 loss versus Grove City in 1923. That forces defenses to sag off the perimeter to help inside, opening the 3-point shot.
The Mountaineers must also get into offensive sets and begin running them immediately and efficiently after the play set and not hesitate to take the first good shot it gets.
"We will have to pick times to dribble drive," John Beilein said. "The ball moves faster than people do. We will have to pass well."
Louisville (17-9, 5-8) has won three of its last five games and can even its Big East record with three regular-season games remaining. That would push it to the verge of an NCAA bid. Now, though, it's fighting, surprisingly, for a conference postseason berth and is expected to play at a high level. With increased rest – and despite fan bickering – it remains to be seen if WVU can do the same.
"I tell myself I always play with a sense of aggressiveness," Herber said. "This game isn't any different."
Said Mike Gansey: "We haven't noticed fan reaction as much. We just go and play and we'll try to snap this streak."