"It goes back to what I told them the first day," Huggins said. "If we defend, we have a chance. We may not win, but we'll have a chance."
Huggins built his team on defense and it was a good thing for they would need it. The Mountaineers wound up with the worst shooting percentage of any team in the Top 25, yet they continued to win and they now are looking at possibly a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they can win out.
How good has the defense been? In every game where they held the opposition to 68 or fewer points they won, going 20-0.
They did it not only with an in-your-face, man-to-man defense, but also by adding a 1-3-1 zone that they would pull out at the end of games that really drove opponents crazy. Villanova could not solve it in the final game and that wound up haunting the Wildcats.
Had WVU not played defense the way it did, it would have been far too far behind in the first half when it scored only 16 points. But that wasn't the case.
"I told them at halftime we can't play any worse," Huggins said.
He also told his Mountaineers something else.
"We held them to 27 points. The best scoring team in the league and we held them to 27 points," Huggins said.
And that allowed them to win maybe the most crucial game of the season.
ON THE SPOT: F Devin Ebanks is one of the most unique players in college basketball and probably holds the key to WVU's post-season success. At 6-9, he often plays a guard position and is often assigned a key defensive matchup. Against Villanova it was Scottie Reynolds, who wound up hitting only 5 of 15 shots and 1 of 9 from 3-point range. Ebanks is the team's leading rebounder and is a force on the offensive boards while also being a double-figure scorer. When he plays well he lifts WVU to another level.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The one thing this group of guys is not going to do is quit. We let a couple of games slip away, but not because they quit. That's not what we're about. That's not what my idea of West Virginia basketball is about. It's about toughness." -- Huggins on his team after it came back from a 13-point deficit and a first half in which it scored only 16 points to beat Villanova in overtime in the regular-season finale.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: West Virginia entered the season with high hopes and a national ranking and nothing has happened to dampen that. The Mountaineers suffered a few disappointing defeats along the way but not enough to knock them out of the Top 10. They now hope to earn a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. F Da'Sean Butler, the team's star, survived a late season scoring slump and finished off with a pair of 20-point performances, but he did shoot well, making just 10 of 26 in those two games. Winning out against Cincinnati, Georgetown and at Villanova gives them confidence heading into the Big East Tournament.
West Virginia 74, Cincinnati 68
West Virginia 81, Georgetown 68
West Virginia 68, Villanova 66 OT
IN FOCUS: West Virginia is pushing for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, perhaps a No. 1 if it can sweep through the Big East Tournament. With a double bye, the Mountaineers are in position to do it by winning only three games. The Mountaineers are a team that could live off its defense in tournament play but does have to find a way to handle the ball better and shoot better if it is to survive a pair of one-and-out tournaments.