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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Stopping Alexander the key for ‘Cats

    West Virginia forward Joe Alexander takes a shot during his teams practice Wednesday in the Verizon Center in Washington D.C.  Alexander, who averages a team-high 16.8 points per game, is a key part of West Virginias offense.
    West Virginia forward Joe Alexander takes a shot during his team’s practice Wednesday in the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. Alexander, who averages a team-high 16.8 points per game, is a key part of West Virginia’s offense.

    Opponent Analysis

    WASHINGTON – If you listen to West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, you would think the Wildcats lucked out in drawing the Mountaineers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

    “”We can’t run high ball screens, screen and rolls because we don’t have those kind of players,”” Huggins said. “”We can’t throw it on the low block because our 7-footer is more of a 3-point shooter than he is a post player. We are what we are, take what you have and try to adjust and try to put them in position where they can be successful.””

    When told of those comments, UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill replied, “”It doesn’t stop them from being a very good basketball team. They’re stronger as a group than they are individually, and that says a lot about their players and their style and their system.””

    West Virginia’s roster does include four players who average double figures, all of whom have the range to stretch a defense. It also features forward Joe Alexander, the team’s leading scorer averaging 16.9 points per game, who is blossoming into quite a low post presence.

    Alexander has come on strong in March, leading the team in scoring in the Mountaineers’ first five games this month before going for just 12 in a Big East Tournament semifinal loss to Georgetown.

    Alexander averaged 29.8 points per game during that stretch, leading his team to a 4-1 mark, with all but one game being at least a 29-point performance.

    “”He’s a great player,”” said UA forward Chase Budinger. “”He’s been playing extremely well the last couple of games, really been shooting it really well. He has extreme confidence right now.

    “”He’s going to be a handful for us. We just hope that he doesn’t have one of his typical games like he’s been having. We really need to focus in on him.””

    UA forward Jordan Hill said he expects the defensive assignment on the 6-foot-8 Alexander to go to 6-foot-4 UA guard Jawann McClellan, who called Alexander “”obviously … the key to their team.””

    But besides Alexander and starting center Jamie Smallington, who plays just 12.6 minutes per game, no Mountaineer stands taller than 6-foot-7.

    O’Neill said he needs to be smart about what’s the best matchup for Hill, who has struggled defensively when taken outside of the lane, but the UA big man said O’Neill told him something about putting him on a non-shooter.

    “”If he puts me on a non-shooter then I can stay off and just move my feet with him,”” Hill said. “”It’s going to be a big challenge for me because guarding shooters and guards that can shoot and drive, that’s going to be a big key for me because I’ve got to get out in their airspace and try to move my feet quick enough to stop them.””

    When playing Oregon, a UA opponent who O’Neill said resembles West Virginia, the UA coach often chastised his team about not getting up in the Ducks’ airspace. He said that will be important once again, particularly against guard Alex Ruoff – a 3-point bomber who nailed 40.4 percent of his 225 attempts, leading O’Neill to compare him to Washington guard Ryan Appleby – and Alexander.

    “”We can’t let them go on streaks,”” O’Neill said. “”We’ve got to make sure we’re making them shoot contested shots, make it hard for them.””

    As a result of their balanced lineup, the Mountaineers have been consistent as a team all season, never losing more than two games in a row on their way to compiling a 24-7 record and 11-7 Big East Conference mark, tying them for fifth place in the league.

    In Huggins’ first year, O’Neill said he sees West Virginia as being more physical than under former head coach John Beilein, who emphasized a finesse style. But Beilein’s shoot it whenever you want approach still is prevalent for a team that prides itself on being able to shoot the basketball, hitting 45.4 percent of its shots on the season and 35.3 percent from 3-point range.

    “”They’re a good team,”” O’Neill said. “”They’ve improved each month, which I think is indicative of a team getting used to a new coach. They’re going to be hard to guard. They’ve got good balance, good depth. They’re just going to be a tough out. It’ll be a challenge for us to have a chance to beat them at the end.””

    Without much star power save for Alexander’s emergence in the past month, Arizona’s ability to beat West Virginia could down to how well the Wildcats can get in the Mountaineers’ airspace to defend their shots.

    “”When you rely almost solely offensively on jump shots you better make them,”” Huggins said. “”When we don’t make jump shots we’re not very good. That’s kind of how the team was built on being able to make jump shots. I think (our chance to win) has to do with will we line up tomorrow and make open shots?””

    – Lance Madden contributed reporting from Tucson

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