MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – This season West Virginia has been putting the notion that defense wins championships to the test.
No. 12 West Virginia is the best defensive team in the Big 12 going by opponent field goal percentage, with the Mountaineers holding opponents to 35.8% shooting from the floor and 25.7% from three. The Mountaineers have had to play so well on defense this season because their own offense has not lived up to what was expected.
“We haven’t shot the ball very well at all for what I thought we would be capable of,” coach Bob Huggins said after defeating Missouri Saturday afternoon.
WVU’s team field goal percent is 43.9%, good for fourth in the conference, but that number is propped up a bit by WVU’s big men, Oscar Tshiebwe (60.1%) and Derek Culver (45.9%) making so many shots close to the basket. Tshiebwe (83) and Culver 67) lead the team in made field goals. Pure shooters like Jordan McCabe (28.8%), Taz Sherman (34.5%) and Brandon Knapper (32.9%) have not shot the ball well all season.
Despite this, West Virginia is 16-3 and ranked No. 12 in the nation. While the team’s shooting has not lived up to Huggins’s expectation, its defense certainly has.
“When you’ve got guys like Oscar and Derek, and Derek’s got such great feet for a 6-10 guy. I knew what Duece (Miles McBride) could do. Jermaine (Haley) gives us a lot of length at a guard position, I thought we could be pretty good (on defense),” Huggins said.
Huggins’s players are also seeing how good they can be on defense.
“We have certain lineups where we’re so big it’s hard for certain guys to score over top of us,” Haley, a senior, said. “Our defense definitely energizes our offense, we’ve really been taking pride in getting our defensive stops.”
“(Huggins)’s obviously had teams where they struggled to shoot the ball, but the guys played hard and got stops on defense when it really mattered and then shots start to fall,” McBride added. “I think teams usually feed off their defense and that’s what we do.”
Junior Gabe Osabuohien said the team’s ability to put their offensive struggle to the side shows how mature they are.
“For us to just go out and do it, it just shows that we’re mature and we’re able to fight through adversity and come out and still be the team you’re used to seeing,” Osabuohien said.
Even when the team’s offense is at its worst, West Virginia has found a way to win. There have been four games this season when the Mountaineers shot below 40% as a team, in those games they are 3-1 with the only loss coming on the road at Kansas.
The Mountaineers have a pair of Big 12 rematches this week, traveling to Texas Tech Wednesday night and welcoming Kansas State to the Coliseum on Saturday.