It’s OK if others think it looks like wrestling on hardwood. Coach Bob Huggins believes West Virginia’s style of play is a work of art.
"Everywhere we go people say, `Well, it’s not pretty,’" Huggins said after his Mountaineers manhandled Maryland 69-59 in the NCAA tournament on Sunday night. "I think it’s beautiful."
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Devin Williams had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and the Mountaineers scored 16 second-chance points and forced 23 turnovers in a masterpiece of defense and determination.
The reward for their strength and sweat is a trip to Cleveland to take on undefeated Kentucky in the Sweet 16. They don’t sound as if they’ll be intimidated by the mighty Wildcats.
"Since we started we played the underdog role," senior point guard Juwan Staten said. "They didn’t think we’d get past Buffalo. We got past Buffalo. They didn’t think we’d get past Maryland. We got past Maryland. I’m pretty sure nobody in the world thinks we’re going to get past Kentucky besides the 1.2 million people in West Virginia. But we’re going to keep doing what we do. And keep playing."
The fifth-seeded Mountaineers (25-9) get their shot at Kentucky on Thursday night in the Midwest Regional semifinals.
"I wish I could sit here and tell you we’re definitely going to win. I can’t do that," Huggins said. "But I can tell you we’re not going to be scared."
Gary Browne added 14 points and Daxter Miles Jr. and Jonathan Holton each had 12 as West Virginia advanced to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2010, when it went all the way to the Final Four.
The teams were locked in a close battle until the Mountaineers used gritty pressure defense and physical play to pull away.
Williams scored off an offensive board to make it 49-46. The next time down the floor, after a Maryland miss, Tarik Phillip, who hit the clinching 3 late in the shot clock with 29 seconds left against Buffalo, had his shot blocked. But he got it back and powered it in with 10:08 left.
Moments later, Staten threw a 60-foot pass to Miles behind the defense for a layup. On the play, Maryland’s terrific freshman Melo Trimble ended up getting kicked in the head by a teammate and had to be helped to the bench. He sat there for the rest of the game, his head in his hands.
Maryland cut the deficit to five, but Jevon Carter responded with a 3 for WVU with 4:18 left.
The Mountaineers were content the rest of the way to play keepaway, with Browne and Staten cycling the ball around the perimeter until there was a foul or one of their bruising bigs could muscle in another basket.
Trimble, the Terps’ leading scorer at 16.3 points a game, finished with 15, and Jake Layman had 10. Maryland was trying to advance to the round of 16 for the first time since 2003 — a year after the Terps won the national championship under coach Gary Williams.
Dez Wells, Maryland’s first-team All-Big Ten swingman, had a forgettable night. Averaging 15.3 points, he finished with nine on 3-of-8 shooting. He also had eight turnovers — just one fewer than the entire West Virginia team.
"They kept throwing a lot of bodies at us and we turned the ball over more than we usually do," Wells said. "My hat goes off to coach Huggins and his team. They did a good job."
Devin Williams, asked about playing Kentucky: "It’s another team. They put their drawers on the same way we do. So that’s pretty much it."
West Virginia: The Mountaineers came in leading the nation in steals per game (10.9) and offensive rebounds (16.8) — and ended up with 11 and 14. … They are now 21-0 when holding opponents under 70 points. … West Virginia was 344th of the 345 teams in Division I in fouls committed.
Maryland: The Terrapins figured to have a big advantage at the line and in fouls. They came in 14th in the nation in free-throw percentage (.757) and 32nd in free throws attempted (777). But they only got to the line 13 times (hitting nine) and had almost as many fouls.