WVU hopes shooting carries over at Iowa State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There is a chance that the shooting touch West Virginia displayed against Kansas State on Saturday was an anomaly.
After all, this is a team that through the first 14 games of the season was shooting just 39 percent. It still ranks No. 308 out of 347 Division I teams in field goal percentage. It is still but No. 328 in 3-point accuracy.
But heading into tonight's game at 9 against Iowa State (11-4, 1-1 Big 12) at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, West Virginia (8-7, 1-2) does hold a glimmer of hope that things are turning around.
"We're getting better,'' coach Bob Huggins said. "We really, on the perimeter, play three sophomores and two freshmen. I think we get better all the time. I think the more experience they get the better we get.''
It was certainly better on Saturday against Kansas State. No, the Mountaineers didn't win, losing 65-64 when they couldn't get off a decent shot in the final 21 seconds. But they did shoot the ball as well as they have all season.
In the first half, West Virginia shot nearly 65 percent. For the game the accuracy rate was 51.1 percent. The Mountaineers didn't take many 3-pointers, but managed to make half of the eight they tried. That's a far cry from an 0-for-13 start and a 4-for-17 total a game earlier at Texas, and it's way better than the 28.3-percent mark for the season.
"I thought we got better shots,'' Huggins said. "I thought we did a better job of getting quality shots. Obviously we didn't get enough of them.''
Getting shots in tonight's ESPN2-televised game at Iowa State shouldn't be a problem. The Cyclones like to push the pace, leading the Big 12 and ranking among the top 15 teams in the country in possessions per game. They are fifth in the country in scoring.
In other words, the game is going to go up and down the floor in a hurry. There will be plenty of opportunities to score.
"We really try to get the ball up and down the floor and score before the defense gets set,'' said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg.
How that plays out against a West Virginia team that tends to play aggressive defense and deny teams good shots remains to be seen. Hoiberg knows what he's up against.
"There's no doubt this will be the most physical team we've played this year,'' Hoiberg said of the Mountaineers. "I know they'll be prepared. I have so much respect for Bob Huggins and the way he gets his guys to play for him.''
That, of course, is another issue that will be interesting to see how it plays out. While Hoiberg praises Huggins for his ability to get players to play for him, the West Virginia coach has benched one of his best for the past game and a half because he isn't playing the way he wants him to play.
Whether or not point guard Juwan Staten plays tonight might remain up in the air until game time. Huggins said Monday that Staten would travel with the team, but he would have to see how he practices before making a decision to play him.
"We'll see where everything is and what happens from there,'' Huggins said.
Having Staten would be a bonus because one of Iowa State's best players is 5-foot-11 point guard Korie Lucious. The fifth-year senior, who played his first three seasons at Michigan State and sat out last year, runs the Cyclones' fast-paced attack and averages 5.4 assists. He has also dramatically cut down on his turnovers, which at times were six or seven per game.
Iowa State uses a nine-man rotation and five average double figures in scoring and another 9.2 points. Will Clyburn (14.3 points per game), a 6-7 shooting guard, is the leader, followed by Tyrus McGee (13.3), Georges Niang (11.5), Melvin Ejim (10.8) and Lucious (10.1). Ejim is the Big 12's leading rebounder despite being just 6-6.
How well West Virginia shoots the ball tonight might depend upon how the Mountaineers handle the pace that Iowa State will try to set. If WVU tries to run up and down the floor and take unwise shots, that could be an issue.
For Huggins, though, shooting is almost secondary to doing everything else right.
"I'd rather shoot 30 percent and win than shoot 51 percent and lose,'' Huggins said.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.