MORGANTOWN - In the aftermath of West Virginia's fairly impressive clamp-down on South Florida Saturday in Tampa, Fla., all the Mountaineers could talk about was the defensive effort they had just given.
To a man, they seemed rather offended that prior to the game all anyone - including Bob Huggins - wanted to talk about was USF's league-leading defense. To them it was a matter of pride.
"The only reason we won was our defense,'' Bryant said. "No one wanted to talk about our defense, but look what we did.''
Here's the thing, though. While Saturday's defense in a 50-44 win was exemplary, that has not always been the case of late. And when told his players seemed motivated by a perceived snub, Huggins couldn't help but chuckle at the thought.
"I don't think they look at the Big East statistics,'' Huggins said of a set of numbers that, if perused, would show USF at or near the top in most defensive categories and the Mountaineers generally closer to the middle or the bottom. "We haven't been near as good defensively as what we have been in the past. But I did think we were pretty good [Saturday].''
Indeed, perhaps the most encouraging thing about WVU's win Saturday was the defensive effort.
"It's hard to win when you shoot 28 percent,'' Huggins said of his team's season-low shooting percentage. "But we made plays when we had to make plays, and we did a pretty good job of making them do things other than what they wanted to do.''
The biggest of those plays were turned in late by Kevin Jones and Gary Browne - the former a block of a Gus Gilchrist shot right in front of the basket and the latter a charge taken from Jawanza Poland as USF was trying to tie the score with 40 seconds to play.
"He makes plays like that. He's a great player,'' Huggins said of Jones. "Those were two big defensive plays. And, quite honestly, they're two big defensive plays we haven't gotten.''
But they weren't the only defensive plays, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the Mountaineers played smothering defense right from the start and almost never let up.
And heading into postseason play - the Mountaineers (19-12, 9-9 Big East) get a first-round bye in the Big East tournament and face the Connecticut-DePaul winner at noon on Wednesday - nothing could please Huggins more than to see his team playing the kind of defense he knows it takes to win in the postseason.
"We got the help. We haven't been getting the help,'' Huggins said. "Lately it's been, 'I've got this guy and you've got that guy.' It's looked like we were on the playground. Well, it couldn't have been the playground because nobody goes to the playground anymore. AAU game.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1