Controlling the Pace

During a Tuesday afternoon meeting with the media before practicing and leaving Morgantown for Syracuse, N.Y., WVU players and coaches faced many questions about the need to dictate the tempo of Thursday's regional semifinal game against Washington.

Of course, they had just faced similar inquiries only days before, in the lead-up to last Sunday's second round NCAA Tournament game against Missouri.

The story, as some pundits told it then, was that the Tigers' full-court pressure could make things too frenetic for a West Virginia team that, to them, lacked quality point guard play.

Someone forgot to tell the Mountaineers. They slowed down the "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" en route to the Sweet Sixteen with a 68-59 win over Missouri at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.

But yet again, the same questions were raised about the up-tempo style of Washington. On a roll of late, the Huskies are known for their ability to score in transition and to play a faster-paced style.

So how, exactly, does a team go about dictating the pace of a basketball game?

"Try to get them out of stuff they want to get in," said WVU forward Wellington Smith. "Make them do stuff they don't want to do. Slow them down by getting back on defense and making smart plays."

Sounds simple enough, right?

That formula worked with great success against the Tigers, who scored only two fast-break points after registering 22 in their first round win over Clemson. Credit the Mountaineers' ability to avoid giveaways, as their 10 turnovers were three fewer than the previous low committed by any Missouri opponent this season.

"We dictated the pace of the game," said Smith.

"It changed the whole dynamic of the game. They led in every category -- rebounding, steals, 3-pointers -- every category, but we still found a way to win by a substantial margin. As long as we do our thing, play defense and dictate the pace, we should be fine."

While the No. 11-seeded Huskies, with what Smith called "dynamic scorers" in Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter, might be known for their up-and-down style of play, that's not the only reason West Virginia will be trying to control the tempo.

Senior swingman Da'Sean Butler said a more half-court oriented game is just his team's style.

"We're not a team that's going to go out there, score 150 points and just run up and down, because we don't have that run up and down talent," said Butler. "But we do have the talent to pass the ball in the half court, to guard, to rebound and make pretty good decisions when it comes down to it. We're a half-court team."

Junior point guard Joe Mazzulla echoed the thoughts of Butler, saying that the Mountaineers would be worried about what tempo to play Thursday's game at, no matter who the opposition was.

"We're about making the right decision at the right time," he said. "If that's to throw it up the floor and get easy baskets, we'll do it. If we're more comfortable at a point in time where we need to execute and get a big basket, we'll slow it down. It just depends on what's available at the time."

"You've just got to play your style of basketball. We've got to do what we do best. We just focus on what we have to do to win and how we can execute."

Perhaps the intangibles could come into play as well. It could be tougher for Washington to get out and run if fatigue is an issue, and with 3,000 miles worth of travel from the Seattle area to Syracuse, that could be a concern for head coach Lorenzo Romar and company.

"That should give us a leg up. They're probably there now, as we speak, just trying to get their legs under them and get used to the time," said Smith. "It's just a lot of things that go into it."

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