Rest Assured

West Virginia's late slate sets up increased chances for rest. One of those came this week via a four-day break between a road game at Syracuse and Saturday's home contest with Louisville. So where does that leave weary WVU?

The No. 14 Mountaineers should be as fresh as anytime since the start of the Big East schedule. West Virginia was off Wednesday and after holding a light shoot around on Tuesday, then did self-work on Thursday and pure Louisville prep for an hour Friday.

"We went short but hard," Mike Gansey said. "I could feel my legs coming back, getting that extra bounce."

So the physical facets are returning. Still, to twist a phrase from another sport, basketball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.

"It's mental too," Jo Herber said of fatigue. "You are not as focused. You miss a switch defensively or miss an assignment. You might go watch a movie for two hours, but other than that you are caught up in it."

Finding that recently lost mental aspect will be key against a pressing Louisville team. That extra focus, combined with fresher physical attributes, can mean recognizing and getting into passing lanes quicker, seeing and breaking better for a backdoor layup or merely gaining possession via a tip or rebound.

"Our goals are to force them into turnovers," Gansey said. "We want to jump those passes. And getting to the basket will be big when they press."

Too, WVU has floundered of late from behind the arc. It has hit just 42 3-pointers in its last five games, eight off its season-average of 10 per game. Much of that stems from tired legs, from where the power for all shots, especially longer ones, originates.

And before one claims that an off-mark of 1.6 per game isn't stat-worthy, note that should WVU have hit on its average, it likely would have two more wins (Syracuse and at Pitt) and might have pushed past that one-point deficit barrier in the waning minutes against Connecticut. That's 20-6, 11-2 Big East versus the current 18-8, 9-4.

The two days rest will help," Jo Herber said. "The shooting, I think, will benefit most. We had a day off and we came back and shot well with our legs."

Freshness could be called for more this game than any remaining in he regular season because of Louisville's fast, aggressive style.

"The other team will be quicker than us. That will be difficult," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "So we took two days rest because I sensed we needed that. We practice against (various presses) all the time, but you don't see it as much. This will be one of the first times."

Louisville's constant pressure wore on West Virginia last season and was the central cause of the 93-85 overtime Elite Eight loss. The Cardinals (17-9, 5-8), winners of three of their last five, will try to duplicate that attack this year and use guard Taquan Dean to spark the rest of the youthful but talented roster. Sticking with that athletic of a player for 40 minutes is a chore in itself.

"We have to find where Dean is because we don't want him to go off," Gansey said. "He is a catalyst for the team, they get inspired by that."

Beilein's style has never been to make wholesale changes. West Virginia will try to break the pressure, then settle into its normal offensive rhythm. The difference against the Cardinals is that that rhythm might have a faster tempo itself because U of L doesn't allow most foes to begin sets until 22 seconds remain on the shot clock.

"There is not a whole lot you can do this time of year that does not make the waters a little muddier," Beilein said. "We will get the ball to our handlers and run the normal offense."


Pat Beilein, who got into a lighthearted verbal joust with roommate Mike Gansey about dunking last year, has finally allowed that he might never jam one while a Mountaineer.

"Well, it's not going to happen," he said. "My legs are too shot."

Said Gansey: "I'd like to see him do it, but with two good teams left with Louisville and Pitt, it's hard. He tried in practice. He got the rim, but the ball just sort of hung in there."

Sort of what West Virginia is doing during basketball's dog days.

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