West Virginia has played the same way for so long that people automatically turn to its defense for its success over the years. It's an accurate assessment, but so much has been made over "Press Virginia" that the Mountaineers never seem to get enough credit for their ability to score.
WVU played with its usual in-your-face intensity on defense, but they were terrific from the perimeter Saturday en route to a 83-71 victory over Notre Dame in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in KeyBank Center. The Mountaineers reached the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in 12 years and the first since 2015.
West Virginia isn't a pretty offensive team, but that's not to say the Mountaineers aren't an effective one. WVU's offense is predicated by its high-intensity defense, which takes teams out of their comfort zones. It forces opponents into making poor decisions, leading to easy baskets on the other end.
Bob Huggins has been coaching the same way for years, so it wasn't as if the Fighting Irish didn't know it was coming. West Virginia doesn't get enough credit for functioning at a high level in the half-court offense. It has a collection of good shooters and a team that is bent on attacking the basket.
People overlook the fact they're 20th in the nation in scoring and in the top third in three-point shooting. Tarik Phillip and Jevon Carter were 6 of 9 from long range Saturday. They converted from behind the arc on consecutive possessions to give the Mountaineers a 57-47 lead with 12:41 remaining in regulation.
Carter finished with a team-high 24 points to lead five players in double figures. Daxter Miles added 18 for the fourth-seeded Mountaineers (28-8).
Notre Dame fell behind by 10 points early but stayed in the game long enough to have a chance going into the final four minutes. Bonzie Colson picked up his fourth foul with 9:47 remaining but remained in the contest. His three-pointer with 4½ minutes left allowed Notre Dame to draw within 68-61.
The Fighting Irish were 32nd in the nation from long range but struggled to find the basket Saturday. Senior V.J. Beachem made only two of 14 shots from the floor, including one of nine from long range. His teammates shot 50 percent (20 for 40) from the field. Colson had a game-high 27 points on 10-of-15 shooting.
So often, as the cliché goes, the NCAA Tournament comes down to making shots. It just happens to be more difficult against West Virginia.
Man, is that team aggressive.
The Mountaineers will come across a team that makes good decisions, has more talent and doesn't buckle under duress. No matter how they're going down, they're going down swinging. If they keep fighting long enough, they can put themselves in position to win the whole thing.
Notre Dame wasn't some terrified collection of softies that never faced a defense like the one West Virginia unleashed Saturday. The Fighting Irish play in the Atlantic Coast Conference and have grown accustomed to performing under conditions much worse than anything they endured in the Big Dance.
They knew turnovers were inevitable Saturday. If they kept them to a minimum and made open shots, they stood a good chance of advancing. Too often in the first half, they had good looks and failed to find the bottom of the basket. It needed to change if they planned to overcome a seven-point deficit in the second half.
Notre Dame struggled to find its rhythm in the first eight minutes and missed its first six shots before getting its offense into gear. It committed six turnovers in the first 12 minutes against West Virginia's defense, matching its total for the entire game Thursday afternoon in a 60-58 victory over Princeton.
Despite problems handling the pressure, the Fighting Irish managed to peck away at the Mountaineers' lead and closed an 11-point deficit to three with 4½ minutes remaining in the first half. West Virginia cranked up its defense again, forced four more turnovers and had a 42-35 lead at intermission.