Huggs Prepared For Physical Play

WASHINGTON, D.C. – West Virginia expects a surprising amount of physicality from Arizona's three-guard sets when the two teams kickoff their NCAA Tournament here Thursday.

That's a bit of an eye-opener, considering the Wildcats' leading scorer is freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless, and its line-up is known more for solid outside shooting than interior dominance. Consider, too, that Arizona is being outrebounded and that it is forcing less than one more turnover per game than its opponents. Lies, darn lies and statistics, according to WVU head coach Bob Huggins.

"They have two guys that potentially are first-round draft picks," Huggins said of Bayless and forward Chase Budinger. "They are going to come out and be physical. They are going to come out and play man-to-man and try to take you out of things. They are much like the upper-echelon people in our league."

The Big East has long been considered the conference with the finest mix of physicality and skill. If the Big Ten is simply rock'em, sock'em and the Pac-10 is run-and-gun, the Big East is an offshoot of both, with as wide a variety of styles as one will find. That should help seventh-seeded West Virginia as it adjusts from an inside-based team in Georgetown to a transition squad like the 10-seed Wildcats.

"Connecticut and Georgetown were a lot about size for us," Huggins said. "Arizona will run. I think they're the best in transition. They are a great transition team. They probably want to play a little faster and spread you out. And Kevin (O'Neill, U of A's interim coach) is going man-to-man and his teams were always physical. Kevin's guys have always been very physical and always been very tough mentally and physically."

That's something the Mountaineers must match. West Virginia was psychologically shot after the first minutes of the semifinal Big East Tournament loss to Georgetown. WVU appeared intimidated and never found any pace or offensive flow as the Hoyas challenged every pass and shot. Arizona will do the same, using a different approach with a two-forward, three-guard look. Rebounds will be immediately outletted with the ‘Cats searching for transition hoops. Any upcourt push will be maximized by quickness and an ability to finish. And U of A will continually poke and prod for easy baskets. It's not 40 minutes of hell, but it's not 40 minutes of heaven, either.

When Arizona does settle into its half court sets, Huggins expects a three-out, two-in look. The Wildcats utilize quick-hitters, or plays that isolate players for a rapid succession of catch-and-drives or pull-up shots. West Virginia expects stagger screens and what Huggins refers to as "buddy screens," or a similar style to that of the Detroit Pistons. The Mountaineers, as a whole, have said they feel ready to play. Huggins isn't so sure.

"I can't figure them out," Huggins said. "There are days I felt like we were ready to play and we came out and didn't play. There's some other days I didn't think we had a chance and we came out and played really, really hard. We're like some other people in that we don't have a big guy and we don't have players who can break you down off the dribble. When you don't have a big guy or players that can score off the dribble, your offense is based around making jumpshots. When it's like that, you better make them. We are what we are. We can't run high ball screens, we can't throw it close on the block because our seven-footer is more of a three-point shooter than he is a post player."

But that doesn't mean West Virginia can at least match Arizona's physical mettle. In this game, it is arguably more about who desires it as much as any Xs and Os.

"We are who we are," said Huggins, in his 16th NCAA Tournament, which is good for a tie for fifth on the active coaches list. "You take what you have and try to adjust and put them in positions where they will be successful. I just like to win."


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