After his Cardinals toppled Pitt last weekend to knock the then-top-rated Panthers from the ranks of the unbeaten, University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino praised his team's effort across the board. First, he praised his team's heart and persistence. He praised the defensive effort of point guard Edgar Sosa, who hassled Pitt counterpart Levance Fields into a season-high six turnovers.
Perhaps his biggest source of excitement, though, came from something you wouldn't normally hear a coach – at least one as decorated as the legendary Pitino – mention at length after a big win. It had to do with the way his Cardinals defended Pitt standout Sam Young.
"Soon as we close out on him we're standing like a statue, and then the second one we're going to challenge because he never ball-fakes twice," Pitino was quoted as saying in the Louisville Courier-Journal. "He kills everybody on that unorthodox move."
Young, the leading scorer for Jamie Dixon's fourth-ranked Panthers, might use his shot fake better than any player in college basketball. As Pitino said, it looks unorthodox, even exaggerated. Yet in his fourth year as a major contributor at Pitt, the move is still a staple of Young's attack.
Standing 6-6 with phenomenal athleticism to boot, the Clinton, Md. native gets plenty of points without using the shot fake. At 18.6 points per game, Young gets his numbers in a variety of ways. He can spread the floor with his three-point shot, pull up from mid-range and drive the ball to the hoop. The fact that he is such a capable shooter from anywhere on the court is a big reason why his shot fake is so effective, according to WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
"He just makes shots," Huggins said Saturday. "You can pump fake all you want, but if you can't make a shot, nobody is going to go for it. He shoots the ball really well. He's a good catch and shoot guy and he uses the pump fake to be able to free himself up off the bounce."
The latest victim was Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku, who bit hard on the fake during Pitt's 78-60 win over the Orange last Monday night. Midway through the second half with Syracuse trying to get back into the game, Young received the ball on the block against the 6-8, 275-pound Onuaku. He quickly turned to face the basket, and went straight to the shot fake, rising up on his tippy-toes with the ball held high above his head. Onuaku flailed after the ball, which Young pulled down, dribbled once and then slammed through the hoop to ignite the Peterson Events Center crowd.
"It just looks exactly like his real shot," said WVU's Wellington Smith, who was admittedly victimized by the move last season. "Look at his shot and then look at his shot fake and they look exactly alike. Guys always try to block his shot, so you see them go after it. You just have to try to stay on the ground."
"Even though you aren't looking at his feet to see what they are doing, when somebody raises up past a certain point in the air you kind of think they are shooting," added junior forward Da'Sean Butler. "So, you jump. It works. It really is exaggerated, but it gets him the points he needs to get. He's a great player."
The keyto guarding against the fake is to stay on your feet on his first attempt. Pitino noted after Louisville's win that Young almost always fakes the shot once, but never twice.
"You've got to try not to leave your feet and guard him straight up," Butler said. "He's a great player. Sometimes you slip up. Good players are going to make plays, but you have to try to stay down and play good defense."
For West Virginia to topple Pitt, it will certainly take a lot more than simply not falling for Young's exaggerated but effective maneuver. Keeping the Panthers off the offensive glass, limiting the effectiveness of center DeJuan Blair and trying to find a way to score against Pitt's renowned, suffocating half-court defense are all keys.
If the Mountaineers can do all of that and not fall for Young's shot fake to boot, they have a pretty good chance of picking up their second landmark win in as many games.