NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview - Washington

West Virginia will try to control tempo and set pace for a second straight game as it meets 11th-seeded Washington in an East Region Semifinal tonight.

SCOUTING THE HUSKIES

Like most pressing teams, Washington uses a three-guard, two-forward lineup with very good quickness but a bit downsized from power squads. The two top scorers – point guard Isaiah Thomas and swingman Quincy Pondexter – are also the players most apt the challenge the rim. Thomas (5-8, 185 lbs.) averages 17 points and four rebounds per game and is the prototypical slasher sans the normal 6-0-plus height. The sophomore dishes about three assists per game, and though he isn't a great outside shooter at 33 percent, has taken more than 40 percent of his shots from three-point range. Thomas shot 93 percent from the line as a freshman last season, and this year is hitting 74 percent. Solidly built, the Tacoma native can bully into the lane after using his good first step. This will be a difficult assignment for Joe Mazzulla, especially considering the Mountaineer point guard will play the vast majority of the game if he remains out of foul trouble because of the season-ending foot injury to starter Truck Bryant. Mazzulla is undoubtedly the better defender of the two WVU guards, but hasn't started since his shoulder injury during last season and could be somewhat tamed for fear of foul trouble. If Mazzulla goes out, Da'Sean Butler likely assumes the point, meaning his offensive productivity would likely lessen. Watch and see if UW head coach Lorenzo Romar instructs Thomas to repeatedly attack Mazzulla early on. Pondexter (6-6, 215 lbs.) leads the team in scoring with almost 20 points per game and averages two rebounds more (7.5 rpg) than any other Husky. By far the most versatile Washington talent, Pondexter has played more games than any other player in school history. He hits inside and out (53%FG/37%3pt.), and is length and athleticism allow him to make plays in traffic and the open court. Much of his scoring comes in transition, where the Huskies look not only to get to the bucket, but also kick out for threes. Pondexter is a solid free throw shooter, and will force action to the basket to draw fouls. The Fresno native doesn't handle the ball a ton, but has quick hands and feet and often gets into passing lanes to cause problems. WVU must find him on UW glass and get a body into him to limit second opportunities. Shooting guard Abdul Gaddy (6-3, 190 lbs.) is in his first collegiate season and, at four points per game, is the fifth offensive option on the team. Gaddy is struggling from the line and three-point arc and needs some maturation mentally and physically; he turned 18 on Jan. 26, making him the youngest player in the Pac-10. Still, the freshman has decent skill and passes the ball effectively. He won't drive as much as his counterparts, but gets the ball into the hands of the main threats, and doesn't have many lapses during his 18 minutes per game.

Forwards Justin Holiday (6-6, 180 lbs.) and Matt Bryan-Amaning (6-9, 240 lbs.) average six and nine points per game, respectively, and each see about 22 minutes. Holiday, the power forward, has decent range from five feet inside the arc, but isn't good beyond the line and doesn't appear comfortable shooting from long range. His game is on the defensive end, where he was named to the five-man All-Pac-10 team. He usually draws an opponent's top offensive player, and his physicality and length make getting good looks difficult. This is the likely player to play man on Butler, and though he barely scrapes into the top five on the team in steals, is the best bet for Romar when West Virginia gets into its halfcourt sets. Bryan-Amaning has taken the third-most shots on the team and is making 55 percent, that boosted by second chances. He is an average free throw shooter, but his height, length and ability to read plays help from on the defensive side and have given him 35 steals and a team-best 49 blocks. This isn't a game-changer on the inside, but there's enough ability here to cause the Mountaineers problems if they don't remain tough physically and mentally. Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and, perhaps most often, Kevin Jones must be active with when rebounding against and defending the five-man.

Regarding depth, Washington is able to match West Virginia in sheer numbers and comes close in reserve quality – especially now that there are no backup point guards for the Mountaineers. Venoy Overton (5-11, 185 lbs.) and Elston Turner (6-4, 205 lbs.) are the main backcourt threats, with Overton playing more minutes than two of the starters. The sophomore averages 8.5 points per game in 23 minutes and leads the uptempo team in steals. He seesm to play his best in late game situations, where UW has him handle the ball and try to get to the line. Overton has made 25 of 29 free throws this season in the last two minutes of games. He can score, but also leads the team in assists. This is certainly among the best five players Washington has, but Romar likes his energy of the bench, and thus keeps him as the sixth man. Turner averages five points and two rebounds and primarily (66%) shoots from three-point range. He has made 38 percent of his threes this year, and should be guarded outside the arc. He isn't apt to drive, and thus doesn't draw a ton of fouls. He also isn't as good defensively as most of the other guards. Three-man Scott Suggs (6-6, 185 lbs.) is another decent three-point shooter at 37 percent, and the sophomore will pull defenders away from the bucket to open lanes. Suggs plays 14 minutes, though his drawing many fouls isn't a worry as he doesn't attack the bucket as much as one might expect from a swingman. He is also merely decent on the glass. Primary interior reserves Darnell Gant (6-8, 225 lbs.) and Tyreese Breshers (6-7, 225 lbs.) both hit for about three points per game. Gant's game is a bit more settled and suited to inside play, while Breshers likes to run in transition. Gant, a sophomore, has the fewest turnovers on the team at seven and will provide more patience than Breshers, who likes to use his length to block shots and get out in transition to attack the basket without having to go through stronger players. Neither has made a three-pointer this year, and both show average numbers in rebounding (2.5 rebounds per game each). Gant is much better from the line than Breshers, but in a late game situation don't expect to see either unless Washington is in foul trouble.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Thurs. March 25
7:27 p.m. EST

Carrier Dome
Records
WVU 29-6
UW 26-9
Series
UW 1-0
TV
CBS
Sirius Channel: 126
RPI
WVU – 4
UW – 41

OUTLOOK

Washington wants to push up and down the floor and get the ball into the hands of Pondexter and Thomas in transition. West Virginia wants to slow tempo and force a second straight grinding, halfcourt contest. With Washington arguably among the hottest teams in basketball, WVU, sans point guard Truck Bryant, needs to start well and maintain some momentum – as it did in choking out Missouri's desired fast-paced style. The Huskies don't quite have the sheer size or athleticism of Mizzou, and thus West Virginia should be able to rebound better and find more success in putback and second-chance points, a key in this game. The main match-up issue is Joe Mazzulla. Can he play a complete game and remain out of foul trouble? How much must he alter his physical style to stay on the floor for extended periods? And if the junior is forced to sit, how much will Da'Sean Butler's move to point hurt his production and put a damper on offense in a game in which it is much needed? There isn't much question WVU should be able to break the press and operate its motion offense – if it has its marquee players in their typical slots. And, yes, the Mountaineers have defeated good teams with Butler playing the point for much of the game (3-1 this season with five forwards in the starting line-up). But in a tempo battle versus a foe which presses and pushes the pace, point guard play is essential. The Mazzulla situation is largely an unknown until the game begins to play out. But prior to the contest, it could serve as a focusing aspect for WVU, snapping the favored Mountaineers to attention on this game. Outside of that, the ideals are much the same as most others: rebound, play defense, force contested shots away from the bucket. Make free throws, don't mentally or physically lapse. Play hard, play focused, play intelligently.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Truck Bryant (Foot), Out for Season.

UW: None.

FAST BREAKS

West Virginia has won eight consecutive games, 10 of its last 11 and 16 of its last 19. The Mountaineers will set the school record for single-season wins with a victory over Washington.

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Before Washington's 80-78 win over Marquette in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Huskies had lost 10 straight to Big East teams dating back to 1989. Three of Washington's last six NCAA tournament trips were ended by Big East teams in 1998 (Connecticut), 2005 (Louisville) and 2006 (Connecticut) – a great stat provided by MSNsportsNet.com.

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Under Romar, the Huskies have produced three of the top four offensive seasons in school history, including a school-record 86.5 points-per-game average in 2005. They are averaging 80 points per game this season; there is a hsrap contrast, however, in the wins and losses. UW averaging 83.5 points per game in 26 victories and 69.4 points in nine defeats.

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Washington has won nine straight games. Just three of those wins, however, have come against teams with winning records.

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WVU is 25-0 this season when holding foes to less than 70 points. It is unbeaten in 10 neutral court games this year.

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Huggins has won five of seven coaching contests against Romar. Romar finished his bachelor's degree at Cincinnati in 1992 – the same season Huggins' Bearcats made the Final Four. Huggins' 1993 UC team won first and second round NCAA Tournament games in the Carrier Dome.

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WVU is playing its 176th game in the state of New York. It has won eight of its last nine games there. The Mountaineers are 32-13 in the month of March over their last 45 contests. West Virginia played in the Carrier Dome in the 1987 NCAA Tournament, losing to Western Kentucky. It has lost eight in a row at the Dome and is just 1-9 there all-time.


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