Texas-Sized Challenge

Head coach John Beilein knows the challenge his squad will face when they meet Texas on Thursday night in the NCAA regional semifinals.

"Watching Texas on film, they had a terrific game against NC State, but they have been a great team all year long," the veteran coach observed. "The way they came out after the Penn game, which looked like a root canal type of game for them, and then to play like they did against NC State, they are a confident team. It can be great to win a league tournament, but losing it can shake the tree a little bit."

Beilein believes that the Longhorns' loss in the Big 12 tournament did just that, and as a result UT is threatening to win a national title in basketball to go with the one they won on the gridiron.

"I don't know that we've played a team that has shot 41% from three," he said. "The guys that can shoot it do, and those that can't, don't. They all present problems for us. After playing them, I didn't want to play them again. But I knew they were a pretty good team. I was glad at that point, because I thought that with the right bounces they were a team that could be in the Final Four. But, we don't think about the revenge factor. I wish we had won that game, but it helped us win other games."

Beilein doesn't think the fact that the teams met in November will provide an advantage to either side.

"It seems like it was a year ago that we played, even though it was just four months ago. I don't know if it is an advantage either way. When you play a team a second time in the conference it's one thing, but from November to March is another."

RIFLE REPORTS

Beilein and his staff have been busy studying WVU's first two games in the NCAA, as well as the Texas game from earlier this year as their key means of readying the team for the Sweet 16 matchup.

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Beilein recalled his thoughts from the waning moments of the first matchup with the Longhorns.

"When I saw Mike Gansey come open, I was thinking we were going to win the game, Then Aldridge came out of nowhere to block it. You didn't see me arguing about the call, because I'm not an official. But I thought after missing the three one and ones we were still going to win the game, but then it was over.

"I think it bothered us against Kentucky," Beilein continues. "Maybe we lost a little confidence, but look at those teams we played in that span. The Kentucky game was down to the last second. So, we shouldn't beat ourselves up too much for losing those games."

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Texas will be facing its third consecutive foe that plays at a deliberate pace, which could help the Longhorns. Beilein is impressed with the improvements Texas has shown in taking care of the ball since the WVU game, and believes they will be tougher to get out of their offense.

"They seem to be executing much better without turning it over right now," he noted.

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Having a shooting center was something that Beilein came to value early in his history as a coach, and when he saw Kevin Pittsnogle he knew he wanted him for his team.

"We saw him on the AAU circuit before his senior year when I was at Richmond," Beilein recalled. "We tried to recruit him there, but we couldn't make any headway, because he was a West Virginia kid and West Virginia had done a great job recruiting him. He was a young senior (he didn't turn 18 until after he graduate), while other kids were 19 when they came here.

"He has probably progressed as much as any player we've had in a lot of area, like passing and defense. I think he understands the game much more just because of his development, because he was so young out of high school. I think he understands floor spacing better, too. Last year a lot of his contributions were just shooting the ball. He's not getting as many open looks this year, but he has learned other ways he can contribute if he doesn't get a certain shot."

* * *

West Virginia has come a long way from where it was in Beilein's first season, when his seniors, then callow freshmen, were on the wrong end of a handful of blowouts. However, Beilein has continued to use those games as teaching tools, even three years removed from that time.

"We talk about those two 30-point losses a lot," he noted. "They knew that with the right type of work they could win games, but they also knew they had a long way to go. As much as with the great wins we had, they were great teaching points."

He added that there is certainly some luck involved in getting such a great group of seniors together, then keeping them through graduation.

"We walked into a situation where they recruited a shooting center, and then you get a Mike Gansey. I never would have appreciated him if I hadn't seen him in the Atlantic 10 when I was at Richmond. "It would have been a tough call to recruit him if I had never seen him. And I never saw JD play live. I only saw him on tape."

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Beilein noted that even though his players don't spend every waking moment together, they are a tight bunch.

"The chemistry with this team has never been an issue. Some guys are closer than others. Kevin is married, which changes his life. Joe is from Europe. J.D. hangs with Frank and some other guys on campus. But they respect all that with each other. Because they aren't always together, their locker room, and on-court and travel experiences are tight."

* * *

West Virginia's defense showed a great deal of its former vigor in the first two rounds of the tournament.

"I think we have a better understanding on defense although we still get beat due to lack of height or quickness sometimes," Beilein analyzed. "We'll never be confused with best defensive teams in country, but our kids work very hard at it."

* * *

West Virginia has played six of the other 15 teams in the Sweet 16 – a schedule that has done nothing but help the Mountaineers.

"As it turned out, thank goodness [we played the tough schedule]," Beilein said. "We needed those UCLA and Oklahoma wins, and I'm glad we did it. When you have a veteran team, you can't be picking your schedule. I'm too old now to wait for next year."


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