Runnin' and Gunnin'

LAS VEGAS – West Virginia used its physicality and relentlessness to overwhelm Iowa 87-68 in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Invitational here at Orleans Arena on Friday.

The Mountaineers used an onslaught of defensive aggressiveness seven minutes in to disrupt the Hawkeyes and key a 20-0 run that effectively ended any threat. Behind 11-9 with 13:40 left in the first half, Truck Bryant jumpstarted the deciding run that showcased all aspects of the Mountaineer attack. The freshman scored on a drive, fed John Flowers in transition for a lay-in and canned a three-pointer within a 70-second stretch. He topped the run with a pair of free throws, then flashed another interior feed for a Flowers dunk that put WVU ahead 34-13 with eight minutes left in the opening half.

"We got into them and created offense," head coach Bob Huggins said. "We just do what we do. … Truck makes shots and he's pretty good at pushing it so we get easy things. And I thought the guy that really changed the game was John Flowers with his length."

Flowers finished with a team-high 14 points on seven of eight shooting. Joe Mazzulla and Alex Ruoff had 13 points apiece and Da'Sean Butler added 12. Bryant and Wellington Smith scored 10 each as five Mountaineers reached double figures.

Iowa never had a chance to achieve such balance. West Virginia (4-0) forced a majority of the 17 Hawkeye first-half turnovers during the 20-0 stretch and completely took Iowa out of anything it wanted to run on the perimeter or inside. The man defense intelligently switched screens and challenged every pass while blocking out effectively and rebounding well. On offense, the Mountaineers moved throughout the first half and didn't settle for a first or second look if it wasn't quality. The blend of structure and free flow was solid, and the Mountaineers took advantage at the free throw line, hitting 10 of 12 in the opening period.

By the time the Hawkeyes found what they could do – namely create a one-on-one match-up and shoot jumpers –WVU was ahead by a game-high 39-15 with 5:55 left in the half. It led 48-29 at the break after shooting better than 60 percent (17 of 28), including four of five from three. Iowa, which never got closer than 14 points in the second period, had its 61 percent shooting over the first 20 minutes negated by 28 points off turnovers.

When I look at the score at halftime and see us shooting 60 percent and down by 20, it was amazing," Iowa head coach Todd Lickliter said. "Their level of aggressiveness was something we had not seen. This is a very skilled and well-coached team."

Iowa (5-1) finished with 21 turnovers leading to 33 points. The Mountaineers also had 38 points in the paint and hit 55.4 percent from the floor. Iowa kept pace shooting, at 54.1 percent, but never strung together any more than six consecutive points. Anthony Tucker led Iowa with 24 points. Jake Kelly came off the bench to score 15, nine from the line.

The teams played essentially evenly in the second half, West Virginia choosing to slow the action to a pace that Iowa could maintain. The main issue for the Mountaineers was three fouls 30 feet from the bucket within the first five minutes. That allowed Iowa to get into the bonus with more than 13 minutes left. The guards then began attempting to dive to the basket and fall into WVU. Huggins instructed his players to simply back away and allowed Iowa to turn the ball over via a mishandle or walk. The other problem was a lack of consistency by the officiating crew. There were touch fouls called, and times when players were allowed to scrap for up to five to seven seconds for loose balls.

Perhaps the most revealing sequence of the second half came with eight minutes left. WVU's Devin Ebanks drew a foul and missed both. Flowers grabbed the rebound off the second miss and was fouled. He missed both, but was able to fight through an Iowa player to again grab the rebound and drive the paint for a 69-48 edge with 8:04 left. A frustrated Lickliter called timeout. He was given a technical with 2:52 remaining after arguing a call.

"They beat us in just about every category," said Lickliter, who was denied his 150th collegiate win. "I'm hoping we are better off for having played it. To play at the major college level you have to match (physically). There's a certain aggressiveness that this game demands."

West Virginia advanced to 2-2 all-time in Nevada and 78-76 against current Big Ten members. Huggins is now 2-0 versus Iowa, having also beat the Hawkeyes in the NCAA Tournament while at Cincinnati. The Mountaineers play the winner of Kentucky and Kansas State in the championship game here Saturday night.


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