By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
So much of the focus on West Virginia University’s rally toward a potential NCAA Tournament bid has been focused on the magnificent play of Juwan Staten and the scoring of Eron Harris that, perhaps, overlooked has been the growth of two players who have taken the Mountaineers over the hump.
Those two players came into the season as projects for coach Bob Huggins, neither a typical Huggins-style player.
The first was transfer Remi Dibo, a Frenchman with a sweet trois-point shot but who had much to learn about defense and rebounding.
The other was a kid who grew up down the street, a freshman who opted to remain at home named Nathan Adrian.
He, like Dibo, was a shooter, but the way Huggins plays the game was not really ingrained in him as the season began.
Because it was a young team trying to get to know each other and know college basketball as it is played in the Big 12, the team got off to a slow start, could not win close games that it has suddenly found ways of winning as it prepares now to go to Texas for a Saturday game against the sizzling Longhorns.
Earlier this season, in Morgantown, Texas beat WVU, 80-69, but that was before things started clicking with Dibo and Adrian.
The last time WVU took the floor, those two may well have been the difference as it stunned No. 11 Iowa State, 102-77, the Mountaineers’ second win over a ranked team in three games and their fourth victory in their last five games.
Dibo provided his first 20-point performance while Adrian had a scrappy all-around game with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and a blocked shot.
Adrian’s best defensive work came as Iowa State was trying to mount a comeback.
First he made a steal knocking a ball loose, struggling on the floor to get it, passing it on ahead to Staten while still prone on the ground, only to have Staten waste the breakaway by slamming his two-handed dunk off the back iron.
Next time Adrian stole the ball he took it himself for the score, and then a couple of possessions later he made a clever rotation and blocked a Monte Morris layup.
“That’s getting to the ball. That’s what I’m used to seeing guys do. He was terrific. Really, a key to our run in the second half was his defensive play,” Huggins said during his post-game media conference.
When asked his thoughts on Adrian’s overall game, Huggins almost was gushing.
“I thought he was terrific. I think that’s the best he’s played,” he said. “They came out and kind of cut into the lead a little bit and he made like three defensive plays. He made the steal, threw it ahead. Then the play he made and stole the ball under the basket, that was a big-time play. That’s the kind of plays I’m used to seeing guys make. And he rebounded. He’s really got good hands.”
As important as Adrian’s improvement has been, Dibo has changed the whole philosophy with which Huggins plays. He likes rebounders in there but has opted to go with Dibo rather than Kevin Noreen or Brandon Watkins.
“I like to win more than I like to rebound,” he said. “I think that gives us the best chance to win.”
And Dibo’s ability to spread the floor and hit 3s has helped create this winning spurt.
Dibo said it’s just been a matter of his shot starting fall.
“When you hit a couple you feel confident; you just fire away. I felt comfortable, man, I wasn’t going to miss anything. I made six 3-point shots … good for me,” he said after the Iowa State game.
Asked how Dibo eventually found his shot, Huggins replied:
“When you take a lot of shots your chance for success increases. The first one to get to practice on Sunday was Remi. The last one to leave shoot around was Remi. The last one to leave shoot around today was Remi. Generally, that would be (junior guard) Juwan (Staten), but Remi was the one. It doesn’t guarantee you success, but it sure gives you a better chance. He made a few early, and that gives you some confidence, too.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.