Blast From The Past

Notre Dame was hitting everything in sight, making seven of its first eight shots and roaring out to an early ten point lead. Things were looking bleak for the Mountaineers until head coach Bob Huggins pulled an old defense out of the bag.

With the Irish threatening to run away with the game, Huggins employed what at first looked like West Virginia's staple point-drop zone defense. However, after a couple of trips, it became apparent that this wasn't the point drop. Alex Ruoff was at the bottom of this defense. The point guard wasn't matching up after the first pass. Instead, it was a 1-3-1, a look that Huggins admitted that the team had practiced "about ten minutes" the day before.

"I looked at last year's tape and it kind of slowed them down a little bit," said Huggins of the 1-3-1, which is not, as some believe, a "junk defense". They were on such a roll, I thought we had to do something to change tempo. I put Alex in the back and he's never really played in the back before, he's always played on the wing, but he knows what he's doing. We just tried to coach Devin and Kevin through it."

"We ran it up at their place last time and it slowed them down a little bit," Ruoff echoed. "Guys that had never played that before were playing it, and I was trying to teach them the basics, but it was fun. It helped us out, and stopped them in the first half.

The defense wasn't a magic bullet, but it certainly helped WVU claw back into the game. For point of employment, West Virginia outscored the Irish 31-19 to take a two-point lead at halftime. West Virginia went back to its man-to-man for the second half, but again jumped into the zone in the late going when the Irish threatened. And again, the look came up big, forcing Notre Dame into some unfamiliar shots and helping preserve the win.

The change may have been as much benefit mentally as physically. Both Huggins and Ruoff noted that the Mountaineers were a bit slow at the outset, and simply weren't challenging shots early in the contest. The Irish took full advantage in running out to the early lead, but then appeared a bit flummoxed when confronted with the defense designed to take away long shots from the perimeter. While the Irish were able to get a couple of offensive rebounds for scores, they weren't able to consistently get open looks from three-point range. After making three treys in the early going, the Irish made just two more in the opening half, and were held to three in the final 20 minutes -- two of them after the game was decided.

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