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Huggins is a master at flipping script

April 3, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - West Virginia coach Bob Huggins sat with a typical expression Friday - his head leaning on a closed fist, looking as if the only other option he had at that moment was to drag his fingernails along a chalkboard.

But they made him show up for the news conference anyway.

Questions came from media representatives of all corners of the country, some from those who have seen his team play this season, some who haven't.

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So when a query comes up that doesn't seem to fit reason, he has a way of nipping them in the bud rather quickly.

''We're just going to do what we do,'' Huggins said. ''We're just going to run offense and try to make good cuts and try to make good passes, just run our offense and do the same things we've done all year.''

That was to a question about Duke's 3-point defense being rather life-altering. But it was directed to a coach whose team is notorious for not making shots against anyone's defense, really.

So the guy got the stock answer; the one that's printed on the t-shirts. The one that could have come then, or three questions later.

But a look deeper into this is somewhat revealing. The Blue Devils are, indeed, one of the best teams in the country at guarding the 3-point line. Foes barely make 1 of 4 attempts from beyond the arc against Mike Krzyzewski's club.

But that's not all Duke does well. The Blue Devils also outrebounded their opponents by 242 for the season and more than 11 per game in this NCAA Tournament.

How can one team cover that much of the halfcourt?

Against West Virginia, it's unlikely it can.

Huggins and his assistant coaches - Billy Hahn, Larry Harrison, and Erik Martin - have had a way of turning scouting reports into fibs during this tournament run, which, for those who've forgotten, began with a 10-0 deficit against little old Morgan State.

Remember Missouri's press? It was reputed to make a night at Alcatraz seem like a night at a Hilton. The Mountaineers broke it as if it were silly string, losing the ball fewer than six times as a direct result of the swarm.

How about Washington? Wasn't Quincy Pondexter supposed to score more than seven points? He averaged 20 coming into that game. And, the Huskies probably didn't even write down ''second-chance points'' because the odds seemed good they'd get at least one.

They didn't.

Kentucky? How did the most talented team on the planet miss its first 20 3-point attempts against a team that usually allows 1 of 3 to find the bottom of the net?

It's because all of those teams gave Huggins and his staff more than 10 seconds to view their films and combine their own experiences of success against those strengths.

Huggins acted as if breaking Mizzou's press, which had given so many teams fits, was Basketball 101.

Inbound the ball to a guy like Da'Sean Butler, who is among a handful of the most experienced players in the country, and have him break a double team, then kick it back to point guard.

The way Huggins sees it, you don't play a school-record 4,423 minutes without learning a few tricks.

So Duke defends the 3 and crashes the boards?

Frankly, the way the Mountaineers typically shoot the ball, every team looks like Duke defending the 3-point line against them, so that hardly seems like an advantage.

And rebounds? WVU is 65-9 when outrebounding the opponent under Huggins. That's 74 games. He's only coached 109 in Morgantown. Even when the Mountaineers get fewer, it generally doesn't mean it's over.

Kentucky wound up with 15 more rebounds than West Virginia. But with 4:25 left in that game, it had 16 fewer points.

It's looking more and more like anyone wishing to knock the Mountaineers from this tournament better be good a lot of things. Huggins and his staff have the first few specialties solved before lunch.

Meanwhile, West Virginia's length is often credited as its strength. How do opposing coaches solve that?

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at:

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