West Virginia guards getting it done in NCAA Tournament
Just in time, West Virginia’s Bob Huggins is getting the most out of his top three guards.
Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr. and Tarik Phillip were terrific on offense in a win over Notre Dame on Saturday that propelled the Mountaineers into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
The trio combined for 54 of West Virginia’s 83 points against the Fighting Irish, going 17 of 29 from the floor, including 7 of 10 3-pointers.
They’ll take the fourth-seeded Mountaineers (28-8) into the regional semifinals on Thursday against top-seeded Gonzaga (34-1) in San Jose, California.
“Everybody’s just stepping up for us as the right time,” Carter said.
It hadn’t been that way for parts of the season.
Carter has overcome some cold shooting to emerge as the team’s leading scorer. He’s been in double figures in 11 of his last 12 games, reaching 24 points three times, including against Notre Dame.
Miles missed the first three games with an illness. The low point came in December when he was ejected after elbowing Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins in the face. He scored in single digits in two-thirds of the regular-season games and spent several as a backup late in the season.
Phillip went through a 2-for-21 shooting stretch over three games in late February.
All three had struggles in the Big 12 tournament, when West Virginia lost to Iowa State in the championship game.
A week later, they found a rhythm together.
“They put an enormous amount of time in,” Huggins said. “They’re in the practice facility 12 months out of the year. It’s great when you don’t have to kind of tell people to go in there. You can see it.
“Tarik came in not a very good shooter. He’s a pretty good shooter now. J.C. came in and was not real consistent. He’s pretty consistent now. They deserve a lot of credit. They want to get better and they want to win.”
Carter, Miles and Phillip have helped make up for the departure of the Mountaineers’ top two scorers from last season, when West Virginia lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Stephen F. Austin.
Now West Virginia heads to the West Coast, which doesn’t seem to faze the Mountaineers considering their Big 12 road trips often consist of 1,000-mile trips or longer one way.
“I would think they learned a lot from a year ago,” Huggins said. “Our practices have been better. Our focus has been better. They’ve played in big games in really hard environments and played well. That part of it I don’t think bothers them.”
West Virginia’s 28 wins are the second-most under Huggins to the 2010 team that went to the Final Four.
“I’m just tired of everybody doubting us,” Carter said. “We just go out there and prove people wrong. It just feels good.”
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