NCAA Sweet Sixteen: West Virginia Mountaineers Win With Old Fashioned Toughness
SYRACUSE, N.Y.—Not too often does the style of a basketball team reflect the hardworking, tough nature of the state it represents. With Bob Huggins, a native West Virginian at helm of the Mountaineers basketball club, West Virginia carries the same mentality on the court as the people of the state.
"He teaches us to play physical and aggressive style of basketball," forward Kevin Jones said.
That aggression and physicality leads to a pounding of the offensive glass that no team in the country can replicate on a daily basis. The Mountaineers lead the nation in offensive rebounding which the players say comes from a dedication to hustle and taking every opportunity possible to chase down one of their own misses.
"Our best chance of making a shot is missing one first," senior Da'Sean Butler said. "It's something coach practices on us religiously. So we're always there."
The results of West Virginia's efforts came in the form of 23 offensive rebounds which means the Mountaineers grabbed a staggering 56 percent of their misses.
What's scary for opponents is Huggins's best natural offensive rebounder and low post scorer is progressively getting more comfortable with each passing game.
Dennis Kilicli sat out the first 20 games for West Virginia so he admitted he's behind the curve a bit, but that's changing.
"I'm getting a bit more comfortable with the team and they are getting more comfortable with me," Kilicli said. It was clear Kilicli looked comfortable when he entered the game with West Virginia struggling to convert the seemingly endless chances it had around the basket.
"On this team, it's my job to go to the low post and score."
Boy, did he ever just go to the post and score. Kilicli only played the final 5:10 of the first half, but he finished as the team's leading scorer in the first half. He fired off six shots, hit three, and grabbed a couple offensive rebounds.
It's safe to say Kilicli is right when he said he's adjusting to the way this team plays. This isn't a surprise considering his upbringing.
"I grew up tough in a rough place, but it doesn't matter because that's Huggins. He will go crazy if you don't play hard for one second."
While Kilicli only impacts a limited amount of minutes per game, sophomore Kevin Jones can be as much of a spark plug as the more highly touted Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks.
Jones, one of the most improved players in the Big East this season, scored 17 points and hit three trifectas. Twelve of those points came in the second half to lead West Virginia after the Mountaineers struggled to put points on the board in the first half.
"Every game Kevin starts out so excited," forward Wellington Smith said. "When Huggs takes him out and puts him back in, he just starts killing it again."
What made WVU so dangerous is Bob Huggins has so many players like Kilicli, Jones, and Smith that can make a game-changing impact when his stars Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks struggled.
Butler and Ebanks could never get on track offensively, but they were responsible for shutting Washington's high octane offensive attack down. Butler made several plays out of the 1-3-1 zone that lead to easy baskets the other way. His presence and length made it difficult for the Huskies to do anything in the half court once WVU settled into the zone.
Ebanks played a significant role in shutting down Lorenzo Romar's two key scorers, Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter. Ebanks forced Pondexter into foul trouble after the Huskie forward picked up three first half fouls and played just seven first half minutes.
"I played awful," Pondexter said. "That's it. Foul trouble might have got to me, but at the end of the day I'm supposed to play better than that for this team to win."
No Quincy, Devin got to you and caused your foul problems.
Ebanks also got to guard Isaiah Thomas who stood about a foot shorter than the WVU forward. Thomas scored just one basket in the half court during the first half despite coming in as a 17-point-per-game scorer.
"Basically, doing the scouting for them, we see nobody really had a hand in his face the whole tournament," Ebanks said. "So we really wanted length. That's what I bring to the defensive end."
Ebanks and the rest of this Mountaineer squad brings length to the table. That length should give Kentucky all kinds of fits in the only Elite Eight matchup that will feature straight chalk.
For more info, updates, and stories on college basketball (or even links to videos of West Virginia players dancing around like idiots in their hotels and the videos they've inspired), follow @JamesonFleming on Twitter. He'll be covering the East Regionals in Syracuse and the Final Four in Indianapolis for Bleacher Report.
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