KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The condensed nature of tournament play is supposed to give Press Virginia an advantage.
Instead it was Zone Virginia that gave Kansas State fits.
When their trapping, gambling full-court pressure proved faulty, the Mountaineers turned to a 1-3-1 defense that flummoxed K-State over the final 13 minutes. Just enough time for WVU to climb out of a double-digit hole and eke out a 51-50 victory in the Big 12 semifinals on Friday night.
“They went zone, and we just didn’t have enough time to prepare for it,” said Wildcats coach Bruce Weber. “We went through it the last little five minutes (of practice) … and we just didn’t make the right plays when we needed them.”
K-State led most of the game — from 9:31 of the first half until 1:45 remained in the game. But whereas West Virginia starved for baskets early, Weber’s team floundered late, generating two points in the final 5 minutes.
As stagnant possessions repeatedly lapsed toward the end of the shot clock, a realization emerged: The 1-3-1 that Bob Huggins and his staff began utilizing in early February had become a weapon suitable for March.
“We didn’t do a very good job on our man (defense) and about three weeks ago we decided to try a little bit of the 1-3-1,” Huggins said. “I’m not very smart, but I’m smart enough when it works to keep doing it. It’s been pretty good for us.”
And for a second straight year, West Virginia enjoyed a pretty memorable ending to a semifinal game in Kansas City. It survived Buddy Hield’s halfcourt launch during 2016 and weathered a 16-point opening half Friday.
Of course, the Mountaineers aim to finish the tournament differently this time after watching Kansas preen and gloat a year ago. Jevon Carter recalled the crummy moment in rich detail, like a patient shoveling up trauma under hypnosis.
“We sat there on that bench, watched that blue-and white confetti fall down as they stood there happy, jumping on that stage, putting their shirts and their hats on,” he said. “Wasn’t a good feeling at all.
“Now we’re back here at it. We’ve got another shot — let’s see what we do with it.”
Yes, let’s see what West Virginia can do with Saturday’s championship opponent Iowa State, a team antithetical to K-State in tempo and tactic.
Leaving the arena around midnight local time, Huggins and his assistants adjourned to a hotel meeting room to evaluate film cut-ups of the Cyclones, whom WVU twice beat handily during the regular season.
In trying to beat Iowa State a third time, Huggins quickly hit upon one nugget of strategy: “We’re going to have to score more than 51 probably.”
Big 12 championship
No. 11 West Virginia (26-7) vs. No. 23 Iowa State (22-10)
Tipoff: Saturday 6 p.m. Eastern (ESPN)
RPIs: West Virginia 23, Iowa State 24
Huggins on the Cyclones: “Steve (Prohm) has done an unbelievable job with those guys when you think they’re playing really one big guy, because (Deonte) Burton is really a perimeter guy. He’s a big perimeter guy, but he’s a perimeter guy.”
Prediction: West Virginia 75-73