Turning It Up

For much of Saturday's West Virginia - Seton Hall game, the Pirates were able to penetrate West Virginia's defense with dribble drives to the basket. The Mountaineers, however, were able to put together one key defensive stretch that made the difference in the game.

Much of the contest followed the smae pattern. WVU would push out to an eight or ten point lead, and then the Pirates would close the gap back to two, or four, or five. Neither team could stop the other offensively, and thus trading baskets and mini-runs was the order of the day. That is, until West Virginia finally clamped down on the defensive end.

West Virgnia led 69-62 after a pair of Darris Nichols free throws with 4:24 to go, but that didn't seem safe, as the Hall had routinely been able to come back. That wasn't to be the case this time, though, as the Mountaineers held the Pirates to just one shot over the next 2:54, while scoring eight more points of their own, to lock up the win.

Following a missed, and ill-advised, three-pointer by Pirate Larry Davis at the 4:06 mark, the Hall committed four straight turnovers against WVU's suddenly active 1-3-1 defense. Point guard Eugene Harvey, who hurt the Mountaineers off the dribble for most of the day, committed two of those (he had seven in the game) to effectively end any chance of a Seton Hall comeback. So, did WVU do something different or play harder over that stretch, or did the Pirates simply break down?

Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez credited the former theory. He noted that WVU's defense "suddenly seemed to get a little longer, a little tighter," and began forcing more of the deflections and confusion that it typically sows. For a game in which there wasn't a great deal of intensity, from either the crowd or the team, the difference in the way the Mountaineers played those last four minutes was noticeable. That's not to say that West Virginia wasn't trying in the first 35 minutes of the contest -- but it certainly seemed as if the juices were flowing a bit more during the defensive run.

Mountaineer head coach John Beilein, however, had a slightly different view. Sometimes, he noted, there's just no explanation for why things work out the way they do. He recalled that various Pitt teams have had trouble with the 1-3-1 on some occasions, but that on others they have not been bothered, even though their cast of players have been the same. Why? Often, according to the philosophical mentor, there's no concrete reason.

The Pirates themselves also had a hand in setting up the stretch. Although they were staying in the game by driving to the basket, they turned away from that just prior to the final run. Three of the Hall's five shots before the turnover binge were three-pointers, which certainly weren't its bread and butter on the afternooon (SH was 3-20 from beyond the arc). That, Gonzalez said, was pure inexperience.

While Beilein's explanation may be unsatisfying (we all want to know why something occurred, and often assign blame as well), sometimes it is the correct one. Maybe more than sometimes. Players are competing, coaches are strategizing, but in the end it often comes down to a bounce of the ball, a fleeting on-court decision, or simply random chance.

Timing also plays a role too. Had WVU's defensive stand taken place in the middle of the first half, it probably wouldn't have drawn much notice. Coming when it did, however, it bcame the key stretch of the game.

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