Through 862 career coaching wins, WVU coach Bob Huggins has learned how to create gameplans that his teams can effectively run. The gameplan in the first half of WVU’s Big 12 opener at Kansas Saturday might have been one of Huggins’ best of all time.
The No. 16 Mountaineers controlled the game throughout the first half against the No. 3 Jayhawks, playing efficiently on both ends of the floor.
On offense, the Mountaineers passed the ball into the paint where big men Oscar Tshiebwe (6-foot-9, 258 lbs.) and Derek Culver (6-foot-10, 255 lbs.) battled against KU’s David McCormick (6-foot-10, 265 lbs.) and Udoka Azubuike (7-foot, 270 lbs.).
Culver struggled, picking up two fouls and only scoring two points in the first half, but Tshiebwe thrived against the bigger, slower Azubuike. The freshman big man dominated both ends of the floor in the first half, scoring 15 points and 10 rebounds in the first half. While having a size advantage over Tshiebwe, Azubuike was much slower than the freshman, allowing Tshiebwe to take advantage in transition and on defensive switches.
If Kansas brought in a help defender, the plan for West Virginia was to then pass it to the perimeter for a jump shot. This worked well at the beginning of the game, leading to assists by Tshiebwe and Gabe Osabuohien and made three-pointers by Jordan McCabe, Miles McBride and Chase Harler.
On defense, the Mountaineers continued to pick on Azubuike. The big man had dominated in the paint so far in the season, shooting 71-89 (79.8%) from the floor coming into the game. At the free-throw line, however, Azubuike has struggled mightily, converting only 14-44 (31.8%) of his free throws so far this season. West Virginia took advantage of this, fouling Azubuike several times in the first half, leading to him attempting eight first-half free throws, making four of them.
While the plan was to foul Azubukie, WVU’s perimeter players applied pressure to Kansas’s guards, limiting their shooting and passing. All told, in the first half Kansas had four assists as a team and committed 10 turnovers, four by Azubuike.
While the Mountaineers played well in the first half, they were unable to ever put the Jayhawks away or build and sustain a large lead, resulting in only a 30-24 halftime lead.
Despite the good gameplan Huggins had constructed, Kansas coach Bill Self is one of the few college basketball coaches with more wins than Huggins (681) and he also knows how to come up with an effective gameplan. In the second half, Self found all the counters to Huggins’ plan.
Offensively, the Jayhawks started taking advantage of Azubuike’s superior size, throwing him several lob passes throughout the half. He was a perfect 5-5 from the floor in the second half, scoring 11 points.
Defensively, Kansas completely took away Tshiebwe’s impact. The Jayhawks started pressuring WVU’s guards so that they could not easily pass the ball into the post to Tshiebwe. In the second half, Tshiebwe only scored two points and WVU committed nine turnovers. Kansas outscored WVU 36-23 in the second half, holding the Mountaineers to 7-25 shooting from the floor.
West Virginia’s next test comes against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Oklahoma on Jan. 6 at p.m.