Knocking Again

West Virginia's first game against Providence was a series of miscommunication, missed opportunities and missed 3-pointers. The Mountaineers are vowing it won't happen again when they open Big East Tournament play in a key rematch Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Newly-named Big East first-teamer Frank Young says WVU (21-8, 9-7 Big East) was "in a funk all game" and is infinitely better than it was when it lost 64-61 at Providence exactly two weeks ago. It took 41 3-pointers in that game, missing 32, and failed to aggressively attack the Friars' 2-3 zone, instead choosing to fire away, at times from NBA range. That led not just to its worst second-half outside shooting performance of the year – four of 26 threes, 15.4 percent – but also to an 18-6 discrepancy in free throw shooting, which PC (18-11, 8-8) used as an eight-point swing in making 12 to West Virginia's four. And the Mountaineers, which managed to slow center Herbert Hill and do-everything forward Geoff McDermott – the two managed a combined, and very quiet, 20 points – got burned by defensive miscommunication and failure to recognize PC's sets, which were disguised by head coach Tim Welsh, but not to the degree where they were incipherable.

"They are very efficient in how they play," West Virginia head coach John Beilein said of Providence. "They show one thing and do another, and many times that got us confused. We have to talk and be in good defensive position. We gave them several points out of timeouts and they executed a beautiful play and we miscommunicate what our approach should be."

And while Beilein also backs Young's sentiment, he notes that it might be more because his squad has now played against a 2-3 zone than because of any sudden enlightenment or vast improvement. WVU lacked the benefit of ever seeing the zone played at a high level by any foes. It ran into it here and there versus teams like Montana, Duquesne or Western Michigan. But the Mountaineers didn't play Syracuse to get its nearly annual does of Jim Boeheim's setup, and no major conference team had played the set against West Virginia this season.

"That was the first time we had seen (the 2-3) live," Beilein said. "We saw it on film. Hopefully it will be better. But our team shows its inexperience many days. We showed it again in practice. We just keep fighting through it and learning. We have to have better execution and a sense of what a good shot should be."

The initial remedy was to increase the drive-and-kicks. Point guards Darris Nichols and Joe Mazzulla will likely again be used in tandem because of their ability to penetrate and finish or pass back out for open looks. Beilein noted WVU took seven to eight more threes than it should have, and although not all were bad shots, there was room to maneuver inside and create better chances.

"We have to be more aggressive, and be more selective in our 3-point shooting," said forward Joe Alexander, who went two of nine from behind the arc in the first meeting. "It will definitely be easier now to exploit it. There are weaknesses there that we did not know about. Now that we have practiced it, it will be easier."

West Virginia will also rely on league all-freshman pick Da'Sean Butler. He is among the best creators inside, and can score off the bounce or via a jumper, short or long, though he did miss all six of his 3-pointers in finishing three of 12 from the field in the first game versus Providence. He forces teams to play him honest, and has the explosiveness to dash past for an easy deuce.

"We'll drive more," center Rob Summers said. "When we drove the ball, we had open threes, and even if we can't knock them down, we should have lay-ups and other ways to score inside. Penetration is a big part of our game. It was a lack of aggression. We knew what we needed to do, we just didn't do it. We knew we had to get the ball inside to get to the free throw line, then, if that's not there, kick it outside or be able to dish back down low. We have to let things come to us and not get too high or too low out there. Let the game come to you."

The Mountaineers used a spirited practice session Monday in preparation. Bodies were all over the floor, and Beilein had players take intentional charges several times. Defense was the primary focus late, when the starters were relentlessly attacked by the second-team players and forced to defend several times in a row. Runouts and transition offense, seen as an opportunity for premium points in this game, were also practiced.

"This is all a process of knowing the game," Nichols said. "A lot of the open looks they got were our breakdowns on defense. A lot of our guys were not recovering on defense or in the right places. We had breakdowns where guys lost focus and lost sight of their man. We did not play smart at all. It was one of our worst games. They were tired, but we ddi not play as well as we can."

West Virginia will practice again today in Morgantown, then depart for New York. It will not have a shoot around at Madison Square Garden, but will walk through some sets in a ballroom in the building. Beilein described Monday's drills as "average. That sometimes happens when you get in these situations."

He mentioned that WVU did not beat the scout team in any games this week, but that last year's starters never defeated their counterparts. "Maybe it's one team trying to win and another trying not to lose," Beilein said.

Note: West Virginia will have several players experiencing their initial collegiate postseason tournament. Nichols and Young said they were not told of the Garden and its atmosphere, and will not instruct teammates for fear that it will just cause them greater anxiety. Mazzulla and Butler, among others, must handle the atmosphere and history of the arena. "Frank Young got his first real playing time in a college tournament and did not have to adjust much. Sometimes they play well, we just have to play through it."

The Mountaineers might showcase a new look. WVU wore a shoe with a blue and gold color base with a bright sheen to it. Only about half the team used them in practice, and whether they will be selected for the Providence game is unknown. "They have been out, but only a few teams had them in their school colors," Nichols said. "We are still debating about uniforms. I think we like the yellow uniforms because they are newer. We have been more successful in the golds, for some reasons"

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