Lesson Learned?

West Virginia notched its third Big East win of the season on Thursday night, but did so in frustrating and sometimes passive fashion.

The looks on the faces of Mountaineer players were long. Sure, they had just beaten Big East bottom-dweller St. John's by a final of 73-64. Sure, the Mountaineers had overcome depth issues in the frontcourt -- compounded by an injury to junior forward Joe Alexander, and the fouling out of super-sub Wellington Smith -- thanks in no small part to a big lift off the bench from freshman John Flowers.

But listening to the words coming out of the mouths of veterans Alex Ruoff and Darris Nichols, it was easy to see that despite the win, the men in gold were far from satisfied with the effort their team put forth on the Coliseum floor against the struggling Johnnies.

For the game's first few minutes, the Mountaineers looked out of sync on offense. Mind you it wasn't the first time that West Virginia's offense has looked stagnant this season, though it is a rare thing to see in the Coliseum.

The most troubling aspect of the start, however, came on the defensive end of the court. Playing against a defense hailed by many an opposing coach all season, the Johnnies dissected the Mountaineer man-to-man look, getting open looks on the perimeter and unobstructed dunks on the inside.

"It was just terrible defense, myself included," said Ruoff, who has emerged this season as the team's unquestioned vocal leader. "It was bad defense. I don't want to take anything away from them; they have great guards. But we were giving shooters wide open shots, and big men wide open dunks."

"We came out sluggish in the first half, and they got a lot of easy shots," added forward Da'Sean Butler. "We didn't get back, they found the open man, and they knocked down open jump shots."

By night's end, the defensive woes were solved enough to hold the Red Storm at bay while the Mountaineers found enough offense in spurts to eventually put the game away. Yet afterward, much of the talk centered not on the win, but rather the way West Virginia had played to the level of its sub-.500 competition.

The old adage that "hindsight is 20/20" applies perfectly here, according to several Mountaineer players. In two days of practice earlier this week, as well as Friday's shootaround at the Coliseum, there seemed to be a missing edge. And when the ball was tipped, said edge was still nowhere to be found under the asbestos-free Coliseum roof.

"I sensed in the shootaround that guys were maybe underestimating (St. John's) and weren't bringing the focus that they should have," said Nichols, West Virginia's senior point guard.

"We didn't have two good days of practice," Ruoff concurred. "There was no pep in our step during the walk through."

The lack of intensity and focus reported by the players may not have seemed drastic during practice or shootaround, but following the win, several Mountaineers kept coming back to the lackluster pregame workouts as a reason for the flat start.

"When we get in a game, we kind of noticed that maybe we hadn't gone as hard as we should have gone leading up to the game," said Butler. "We just have to keep this game in the back of our heads to remind us of what not to do before the game starts."

"Maybe some of the guys were looking at the standings and stuff in the Big East," noted Nichols. "You can't count teams out before you even play them."

Luckily, the Mountaineers will have a chance to take a different approach to a similar situation. Up next on the docket is a road trip to South Florida, the same South Florida squad which fell to 1-4 in league play with a loss on Thursday at Seton Hall, previously winless in the Big East.

"If we try to play like that at South Florida, it will be a 30-point win for (the Bulls)," Ruoff said. "We're not good enough to come out and just win every game like that.

"We've got to come out and play with a chip on our shoulder," he continued. "If we can go down to South Florida and play with a chip on our shoulder, it will be a good contest."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories