CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- It’s catchy and clever, this whole Press Virginia nickname. Certainly, it’s worthy. West Virginia’s style of play is as much its calling card as that natty black windbreaker is coach Bob Huggins’ signature, er, style.
But the moniker also comes with an implication, this idea that the Mountaineers win games because they cause disruption and mayhem, with the ball flying all over the court in their wake. Press Virginia, in other words, is simply VCU’s HAVOC renamed.
Except that isn't right -- at least not entirely. Sure, WVU forced Manhattan into a 40-turnover fetal position, but its press is more marathon than sprint, a wear-the-opponent-into-submission force of will that, when it works, leaves a mark.
London Perrantes bore that mark Saturday afternoon, the beleaguered face of a man who was ready to cry ‘uncle.’ Thirty-seven minutes against West Virginia will do that to you.
“It’s brutal," he said of the Mountaineers’ style of play. “I mean, to have to play against a press for 40 minutes is tough, and they do not stop until the whistle blows."
When the whistle blew for the final time, West Virginia not only ended Virginia’s 24-game home win streak with a 66-57 victory, but the Mountaineers also managed to frustrate the stuffing out of a team that loves nothing more than to frustrate the stuffing out of opponents.
The Mountaineers turned the tables on the Cavaliers by backing that 94 feet of torture with a half-court defense that too often doesn’t get its due. Virginia turned the ball over only 14 times -- yes, 14 qualifies as an only against WVU -- but it was the methodical and constant pressure that took its toll. The Cavaliers never looked comfortable -- more static than deliberate -- while the Mountaineers played patiently, poking and prodding for opportunities to run on the break.
“It’s not just stealing the ball. It’s the cumulative effect of making them work, not being able to walk the ball up the floor and play at their pace," Huggins said. “We want people to play at our pace. It’s a big deal for us."
A year ago, that didn’t exactly go as planned. West Virginia essentially tried too hard against Virginia, going for every steal, taking far too many risks to beat a team that rarely beats itself and ultimately losing by 16.
“Set the record for stupid" is how Huggins described that game. This time around, the coach asked his team to be more careful, to not leave a teammate high and dry by going for the hero play.
It was an especially forceful message after the Mountaineers failed to take care of much of anything against Temple. They dug themselves a 22-point hole and, despite a ferocious attempt to come back that an excavator would appreciate, lost by four.
Practice the next day with Huggins?
“Yeah, a lot of fun," Nathan Adrian said with a laugh.
“It was great," Jevon Carter said with a smirk.
The loss, coupled with Huggins’ joyous practice, knocked the Mountaineers down a few pegs. It was a smack of reality for a team that Huggins said does not lack for confidence. What emerged, though, was a team that was confident but not arrogant in the face of more than a few odds in Charlottesville.
West Virginia lost Daxter Miles in the first half, after the junior was ejected following a flagrant foul 2. The Mountaineers trailed by 11 early, and when Perrantes, who connected on just two of 10 shots all day, drained a 3 with three minutes left, it looked as if the Cavaliers were going to follow an epic finish against Ohio State with another steal.
Instead, sophomore Esa Ahmad sucked the excitement right out of the game, taking a perfect kick from Carter to drain a 3 in front of the WVU bench and give the Mountaineers a 3-point edge.
After Darius Thompson clanked a potential tying 3, Virginia fans started to collect their coats and head out to the unfamiliar taste of a home loss. The Cavaliers hadn’t dropped a game at the John Paul Jones Arena since February 2015, when they fell to Duke, and they hadn’t lost to a nonconference opponent at home since 2013 against Wisconsin. (For history buffs who love to reminisce about ugly, that would be the Wisconsin 40-Virginia 38, gouge-your-eyes-out affair.)
It is, of course, early. Even the victorious Mountaineers were quick to downplay any lasting effects this game could have. December wins don’t guarantee anything but perhaps a kinder, more gentler practice tomorrow.
“No, every game is different," Carter said. “It was a good game, a good test for us."
“It’s only December," Adrian added.
But as the season stretches forward, West Virginia ought to be able to count on the lasting effects of one thing: its press.
That's because Press Virginia is even worse for opponents than it sounds.