Team Ball

If ever a game defined the John Beilein system, it was the Mountaineers' 70-65 win over UCLA.

Every player on the floor wearing the Mountaineers' preferred shades of gold and blue made a significant contribution as the home team upset the second-ranked visiting Bruins, no matter the length of their participation in the contest. Not only does that speak well for the way in which the squad has come together in the 2006-07 season, but it also should help the next time the team faces a pressure-packed situation. No matter the opponent, or the venue, everyone on the Mountaineer team now knows that he can make a play that could make the difference in the game.

At the top of the lineup, it was obvious. Alex Rouff had and outstanding game, dropping in 18 points, dishing two assists, blocking a shot and snagging two steals against zero turnovers. Frank Young and Da'Sean Butler also provided double figure scoring support, while Darris Nichols had six assists, three steals and no turnovers in 40 minutes of action. But further down the list, there were big moments as well.

Jamie Smalligan played just four minutes, but had a nice screen and roll for a dunk and a blocked shot. Wellington Smith got a similar amount of time, but had a nicely executed backdoor cut for a lay-up, and had an important blocked shot in the second half to help stunt a UCLA possession. And, of course, there was Ted Talkington's super four-minute stint, which resulted in five points that capped the Mountaineers' second half run. That sprint, which proved to be just a bit better than the one UCLA came up with, was one of the big differences in the game.

Two other players, however, had afternoons that sort of faded into the background. That shouldn't have been the case, of course, but there are only so many storylines to go around. Still, the efforts of Joe Alexander and Rob Summers certainly can't be overlooked.

Alexander, who was still raring to play 20 minutes after the game ended, didn't have his best shooting day, but had several key plays in the contest. He mad five of his six free throw attempts, including three of four in the last minute. He also put up a zero in the turnover column, and had four assists. He also had two blocked shots, including one, like Smith's, that turned away an almost sure Bruin score in the second half.

It was Summers' performance, however, that was the most under the radar while also providing the most bang for the buck. In just over half a game's action, the underrated center made both of his shots from the floor, snared six rebounds (including three on the offensive end, one of which he fed to Talkington for a three-pointers) and dished out three assists. He also challenged Bruin penetration well on the defensive end, snaring three steals and blocking a UCLA shot. It was a massive "in-your-face" performance for a player that has taken some unfair shots from fans and media during his West Virginia career, and one that helped boost the Mountaineers to a signature win.


The excusifying and apologizing has already begun in some quarters. The argument? UCLA would have won if it had Darren Collison in the lineup.

To which the response should be: Meadow Muffins.

First, injuries are part of the game. How a team deals with them is part of the game. Sure, it provides fodder for some interesting discussion. But in no way should it devalue a win. And second, somehow those same people are discounting the fact that West Virginia was without two of its guards, and had a walk-on on the floor guarding a player ten inches taller than he on several trips.

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Although the win put WVU into position to get an NCAA bid, it certainly did not lock one up. The Mountaineers will have to, at least, get home wins over Seton Hall and Cincinnati, and that isn't a foregone conclusion. That's not to downplay the accomplishments of this West Virginia team at all. It's just to note that it has to hold serve in the Coliseum, and perhaps win one more game somewhere along the way, in order to sew up a bid.

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