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Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Thing of Beauty

A Thing of Beauty
By John Antonik for
January 14, 2006

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s kind of becoming a pattern this year when opposing coaches face John Beilein’s West Virginia basketball team. Outstanding college basketball coaches – some of the very best in the country – simply marvel afterward at the way Beilein’s team plays the game.

Marquette coach Tom Crean is convinced that West Virginia's Mike Gansey has what it takes to play at the next level.
All-Pro Photography

Whether it’s their remarkable spacing or their unselfishness and uncanny ability to get the best possible shot, at times it appears as if all five West Virginia players on the floor are playing as one.

When West Virginia is clicking on all cylinders it’s absolutely a beautiful thing to watch – no matter if you’re new to the game coming to the WVU Coliseum and dropping 20 bucks for the very first time or someone like Marquette coach Tom Crean who’s been to the Final Four and coached one of the best players on the planet in Dwyane Wade.

“Whether it was TV, a book, or seeing it in person I can’t say I’ve seen many better complete performances than what I saw from West Virginia today,” Crean said following his team’s 104-85 loss to West Virginia Saturday in one of the more entertaining games ever played at the Coliseum.

The Marquette coach admits the West Virginia system is unique, but it’s really the players operating within it that makes it so special.

“John’s system is a great system and it’s his own system. It really is. You would be doing it a disservice to say it’s like this team or like that team,” he said. “But I’m not sure the system got us as much as it was the players. The players make that go. Their togetherness on the floor, their ability to be committed to spacing, and their ability to make the extra pass immediately is phenomenal.”

WVU senior forward Mike Gansey scored a career-high 33 points, but it was his all-around play; his toughness and his ability to stay in character that impressed Crean most.

“John (Beilein) and the people here in Morgantown are probably the president of the fan club, but I’m a charter member -- I’m serious,” said Crean. “I told (Mike) after the game that the greatest compliment I could give him was that we watched film of him -- how he plays and how he rebounds -- before we ever prepared to play against them. I think he’s that good.”

Crean is convinced that the 6-foot-4-inch guard/forward (now averaging 19.7 points per game and shooting an unbelievable 62.6 percent from the field after Saturday’s game) is going to make a very good living playing this sport for many years to come.

“Anybody who has an opportunity to take him at the next level would be absolutely ridiculous not to because he makes everybody better,” said Crean. “He’s a tremendous shooter; extremely quick and athletic. He made some 3s where he was open and he made some 3s where he wasn’t. The greatest sign of a guy that scores 33 is he never, ever once got out of character.”

Crean also had a poignant message for the West Virginia fans: “I hope all these fans here understand just how good that team is,” he said graciously. “This is not just special for West Virginia. I don’t know the West Virginia history like most of you do, but that is a special college basketball team right there - very special. They’re special for the Big East and special for the country. They really, really play well together.”

Perhaps Georgetown coach John Thompson, III, whose team lost 68-61 to the Mountaineers earlier this week, summed up Beilein’s WVU team best: “If you don’t appreciate the way they play then you’re a fool.”
Double Trouble

By John Antonik for
January 14, 2006


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – You get the feeling from listening to Marquette coach Tom Crean talk about John Beilein’s West Virginia basketball team that he’d have a fun time watching them play if he didn’t have to coach against them.

West Virginia's Mike Gansey drives to the basket during Saturday's 104-85 Mountaineer victory over Marquette at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va. Gansey finished with a game-high 33 points.
All-Pro Photography

But Saturday afternoon he had to coach against them. Mike Gansey scored a career-high 33 points and Kevin Pittsnogle added 30 to lift the No. 16-rated Mountaineers to an entertaining 104-85 victory over the Golden Eagles at the WVU Coliseum.

“Whether it was TV, in a book or whatever I can’t say I’ve seen a more complete performance than I did today from West Virginia,” said Crean. “We have great respect for John Beilein and his team. I hope the fans here appreciate this performance today. That is a special college basketball team right there.”

West Virginia hit a Big East-record 20 3-point field goals, and Gansey and Pittsnogle became the first WVU duo to score more than 30 points in a game since Feb. 17, 1967, when Dave Reaser scored 42 and Carl Head added 33 in a win against Richmond.

You may have to go back farther than that to find a more impressive offensive performance from a West Virginia basketball team.

“It was a great game for people to enjoy,” said Beilein.

The Mountaineers (12-3, 4-0) shot 54.1 percent for the game including 52.6 percent from 3-point distance (20 of 38).

“It wasn’t in our game plan to shoot 38 3-pointers – it just sort of happened,” said Beilein.

West Virginia topped Notre Dame’s Big East record of 17 3s made in a game against St. John’s on March 6, 2004 and most of them came from Gansey, who hit 8 of 11 including 6 of 9 in a 20-point first half.

“He’s a tremendous shooter,” said Crean of Gansey. “He’s extremely tough and athletic as well. Anybody that has an opportunity to take him at the next level that doesn’t would be absolutely ridiculous not to because he makes everybody better, he’s a tremendous shooter, he’s extremely quick and athletic,” said Crean. “I think the greatest sign of a guy that scores 33 is that he never got out of character as far as I could see.”

A very young Marquette team with an all-freshman backcourt kept pace with WVU for most of the game, mainly behind the tremendous all-around play of 5-foot-11-inch point guard Dominic James, who made 10 of 15 from the field and finished the game with 28 points. James also handed out eight assists and grabbed six rebounds.

Besides West Virginia’s hot shooting, the Mountaineers did an outstanding job on Marquette senior center Steve Novak, who came into the game averaging a team-best 15 points per contest. Novak finished the game just 2 of 8 from the floor for 6 points.

West Virginia led from the outset and built a 12-point lead at 27-15 on Gansey’s fifth 3. The Mountaineers led by 11, 45-34 with 4:21 remaining before Marquette went on an 8-0 run to cut WVU’s lead to two, 45-43 following a Joe Chapman 3.

“I’m really proud of the way my team came back late in the first half,” said Crean. “They never flinched.”

Gansey was able to answer the Marquette run by nailing a 3 with 19 seconds left to put West Virginia up by five, 48-43, at halftime. A key stretch for West Virginia came at the 15-minute mark when the Mountaineers were able to step on the gas and turn a five-point, 59-54 lead into a 17-point, 73-56 advantage with 11:07 remaining.

“We didn’t keep the ball in front of us and if you’re going to play a team like this you have to keep the ball in front of you,” Crean said.

The next four minutes saw Marquette whittle the lead to 10, 83-73, following a short jumper in the paint by Jamil Lott. But once again West Virginia was able to put on a run to get the lead to 20, 98-78, on a pair of J.D. Collins’ free throws with 2:14 to go.

“This is a great, great basketball team they have here,” said Crean. “Watching how John has developed this team over the years is tremendous motivation for our young team in this league.”

The Mountaineers had assists on 25 of their 33 baskets and forced 21 Marquette turnovers. That offset a 19-rebound advantage (40-21) for the Golden Eagles.

“We aren’t going to beat anyone on the boards because of the type of system we have,” said Beilein.

Joe Chapman chipped in with 18 off the bench for Marquette while Frank Young contributed 11 for West Virginia.

“Their pace and tempo was incredible; they’re tough to defend,” said Beilein. “But when you shoot like we did we are tough to defend, too.”

“You walk in today and first off … I’ve never been anywhere where we had to get one of our coaches to ask a police officer if we could skip about 50 cars so we could get here,” Crean said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s just awesome here.

“I love the way we’ve got our crowds going at Marquette, but this is a phenomenal college atmosphere,” Crean added. “To walk into the arena and see all the way to the top the gold with the students and the fans … they’ve got a special deal here.”

The Mountaineers complete their three-game conference home stand on Tuesday night against Providence.

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