Valuable Blocks

There is no more valuable real estate in the world than a block in Manhattan, but for West Virginia, it was a different kind of block that proved to be of ultimate worth in its 78-72 win over Connecticut in the Big East tournament.

The blocks in question, of course, were those parceled out by Wellington Smith, who has made the Wilsonburger something of an art form for the Mountaineers this year, and many of them have helped West Virginia to important wins. However, there have been none on a more colossal scale than the three second half swats in this contest.

First, at the 15:18 mark, Smith turned away a shot by Craig Austrie. Smith also snared the rebound, which helped WVU hold on to a ten-point lead it had been clinging to for much of the second period. Although West Virginia didn't score as a result of the block, it served notice that WVU wasn't going to back down to the Huskies.

A few minutes later, it was towering Hasheem Thabeet, who can't walk through tunnels at Madison Square Garden without ducking, who got a taste of Smith's skill. The block that resulted fired up every Mountaineer fan in attendance, and fulfilled a goal that Smith's parents, if not the man himself, wanted.

"I know that he wanted to get one against Thabeet," Smith's father Winston said immediately following the game. That was a big one for him."

Although Smith wouldn't admit to setting a block of the biggest man in the Garden as a goal, he did know it was a big play.

"It got me going, and I think it got the whole team going. He's 7-3, and he put up a layup, and I thought I could get it. I knew it was him when I blocked it."

However, Smith's swat of Thabeet only set the stage for his biggest defensive play of the night. With the Huskies applying defensive pressure and rallying late in the game, UConn guard A.J. Price penetrated the lane and took the ball to the basket with 1:20 to play. A score, and the Huskies could get back into thier full court press, which frustrated the Mountaineers for the final five minutes of the contest. However, any thoughts of a score were again cancelled by Smith, who crushed Price's shot with such authority that the boards under the basket may still be dented from the force of the hit.

"I saw the [defense] needed some help and I came over," Smith said with typical understatement. "I got a little angle that let me block it. I was just trying to get my hand on the ball and not foul him. I'm just glad I blocked it."

Smith did more than get a hand on it. He pounded it into the floor, and when Darris Nichols retrieved it and was fouled, the game was all but over.

Smith's father jokingly noted, "I taught him how to block shots. His mother taught him everything else."

Wellington, giving full credit to his parents, also is relishing the chance to play in front of them on the biggest stage in hoops.

"I used to play my dad one-on-one all the time, and I didn't beat him until I was about 12," he said. "My mom was good at basketball too. I just got a lot of talent from them.

"It feels great to play in front of my family and friends, and have them see me do well," Smith observed. "It really makes a difference for me."

It made a difference for West Virginia as well.


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