No Confidence Lost

Don't expect West Virginia's lone senior to lose his confidence in shooting the basketball anytime soon.

In basketball, the mentality of a shooter is pretty easy to articulate. Simply put, the next shot is always going in. Regardless of whether you're hot or cold, the next one is going in.

Last Tuesday against Delaware State in the Charleston Civic Center, Alex Ruoff displayed the good that can come from sticking to that mentality. Against the Hornets in the preliminary round of the Last Vegas Invitational, Ruoff scorched the nets for 22 points, 18 of which came from downtown as the Mountaineers easily dispatched of DSU. He would finish with seven 3s and 25 points in all.

He continued that hot streak three nights later when West Virginia defeated Iowa in the LVI semifinals, finishing 4-6 from three-point land and totaling 13 points in the win over the Hawkeyes.

In the two games since, though, Ruoff has struggled mightily. In the finals against Kentucky, he made just one of his 10 shots from behind the arc as West Virginia suffered its first loss of the season. Wednesday night at Ole Miss, Ruoff missed eight of his 12 treys. Admittedly, he is not shooting his best right now.

"I'm shooting like Shaq," he joked after WVU defeated the Rebels by a final of 80-78.

Even still, the shooter's mentality still exists. On Wednesday night, that was a good thing for West Virginia. Despite an ice-cold 2-9 effort from behind the arc in the first half, Ruoff kept shooting, which paid off for the Mountaineers.

"I made my first two, then I missed seven straight (in the first half)," he recalled. "So, if I stop shooting after those, then I don't make two more in the second half. I just have to keep shooting, especially if the defense is giving it to you."

Take two second-half 3s away from West Virginia's final box score and there is a pretty good chance the Mountaineers would have left Oxford with their second defeat in as many games. Instead, they are now 5-1, with a road win over a possible NCAA tournament team to boot.

Although Ruoff was struggling with both shooting and foul trouble against the Rebels, head coach Bob Huggins had no choice but to keep his lone senior in the game. Starting point guard Joe Mazzulla had suffered a shoulder stinger early in the second half, meaning Ruoff had to handle the ball a little bit more than usual on Wednesday night.

That, in essence, is what Ruoff brings to the table aside from shooting. Without question, he is the leader of this relatively young WVU team on the court.

"I thought we had to get him back in there or we wouldn't score again," Huggins said. "Alex does so much for us. Even when he doesn't make shots, people still guard him. He's our best passer. I was afraid the game would get away from us if we didn't get him back in."

It didn't, and fittingly, Ruoff provided the game-winning free throws with 17.7 seconds remaining to lift the Mountaineers to their biggest win of the season.

With just two days off between the Ole Miss game and Saturday's tilt with Horizon League-favorite Cleveland State, Ruoff will be looking for a way to bust out of his mini-slump. Huggins and the rest of the Mountaineer coaching staff have been aiding him in doing so.

"What happens is they break down the film and show me, and then they tell me what I'm doing wrong and it's always right," Ruoff explained. "I go into practice and shoot it lights out. So if he tells me I'm doing something wrong in the game, I don't even question it; I just believe it.

"He's given me the green light, but also, mechanically-wise, he's really helping me out with getting a little bit more lift on the ball. I'm shooting it flat when I get tired. He's helping me not to do that."

Don't be surprised if Ruoff comes out on fire against the Vikings on Saturday afternoon. Even if he doesn't, his confidence isn't likely to suffer with a slow start.

"I'm telling you what, nothing is really going to take me out of shooting the ball," he said. "I know I'm a good shooter, I've just missed a couple. I missed nine straight against Kentucky but I just kept shooting. I'm not really worried about it."

Such is the shooter's mentality.

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