More Than One Dimension

Media across the country are quick to drop labels on West Virginia like "three-point shooting team" and "run the Princeton offense", but as with many snap judgments, those appellations are way off the mark.

Listening to radio and television pundits slap these one-coat, quick-drying analyses on WVU can be frustrating, because they paint an inaccurate picture of the Mountaineers. Unfortunately, many of those babbling fountains of inaccuracy never get the chance to be corrected, as Northwestern State center Byron Allen was when he stated that WVU "didn't like to play physically". Allen, of course, found out differently when he was on the receiving end of a couple of Kevin Pittsnogle elbows after he tried to rough up the Mountaineer center. Allen's final line of zero points, three rebounds, two turnovers and five fouls attest to the fact that he was unable to do much to rattle West Virginia with rough play.

The way in which WVU reacted to the Demons' hacking and grabbing, which resulted in 24 fouls against the Louisiana-based team, was pleasing to the WVU coaching staff in general and assistant coach Mike Maker in particular.

"I can't remember one," Maker said in response to a question about any other games he had won when his team scored just four field goals in the second half. "But I think the staff and players knew they were going to be very aggressive and pressure us. We knew we were going to have to drive the ball and make our foul shots. They took us out of our offense, and so did Southern Illinois. Both made us put the ball on the floor, but we are more than capable of doing that."

Maker, like head coach John Beilein, pooh-poohs the notion that the Mountaineers are a one-trick pony that just fires up threes and is unable to take the ball to the basket or respond to physical play.

"I think the misnomer on us is that we are a three-point shooting team," he said forcefully. "We are an aggressive team, and a high- IQ team that takes what the defense gives us. If they are going to play slough or sagging defense, we are going to run the offense and shoot threes, but if they get up in us and deny us, we are either going to go backdoor and dribble penetrate."

West Virginia showed that ability in spades against its first two NCAA opponents, which will likely give Texas pause as it puts together its game strategy against the Mountaineers. Will the Longhorns put pressure on the ball and deny cuts, or will it sit back and see if WVU can shoot from downtown in the cavernous Georgia Dome? Whichever happens, you can bet that West Virginia won't react passively.

"We are going to be on the attack," Maker said. "We tell our team we are going to attack when they pressure us, we are going to the basket. We are going to play to win. That's what we said even at halftime of the Northwestern State game."

Although the Atlanta regional field looks more like a Final Four, with LSU and Duke making up the other pair of teams, Maker would only allow that the group is "a formidable field". It's obvious that the first year WVU assistant, while certainly not cocky, is confident in his team's ability to play with anyone in the nation. And while the storyline of a repeat opponent is being covered from every angle, Maker isn't convinced that either team knows everything there is to know about the other.

"I think both teams will still be feeling each other out [in the opening minutes]," Maker said. "There will be some recall, but that game was a long time ago. I think we have improved as a team, and I'm sure Coach Barnes and his staff feels the same way about the Longhorns."

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