True story: Tarik Phillip was in the locker room of the Sprint Center following the loss to Iowa State and was convinced that his team was close — not getting close, but already close — and a setback against the Cyclones was no reason to fret. There was nothing to worry about … except the element of time.
(Also true: Phillip wasn’t entirely clear on the pre-game performances Saturday, when the KeyBank Center allowed for the Canadian and United States national anthems. He fixed a wide-eyed stare off into the distance, swayed side to side and did not appear to be aware of anything around him. “There were two, right?” he said later when I asked if he had any idea what was going on at that moment. “I don’t know. I was just ready to play.” I can’t imagine how hard it is for him to stir like he does and then sit and then channel that storm when he checks in for the first time.)
Time is a team’s staunchest ally and strongest adversary in the postseason. But nothing is as fickle, either. WVU knows this, and though this team knows times do change and these times are better than others, the Mountaineers are not letting time change them. They’re about to embark on another business trip, and they’ll treat this one like the last one.
“What we did was everything we talked about in practice and on film,” forward Elijah Macon said. “Everything we were supposed to do, we did. We slipped up a couple times, but we made the game hard, and that was the No. 1 plan.”
The entire experience was not without challenges. A winter storm scrapped the original and more convenient travel plan and forced the team to leave campus a day early and bus instead of fly to upstate New York.
Three days later,the Mountaineers beat Bucknell, despite some brief back-and-forth exchanges, and shifted to a taller task to prepare for Notre Dame, a curious counterpart for WVU’s press in that the Fighting Irish committed turnovers less frequently than everyone else in the country.
That distinction wasn’t much of a factor in the game, and even though Notre Dame had only four turnovers in the second half and took 12 more shots than WVU, it was the Mountaineers who played the exceptional offense and made the most momentous baskets to be certain the lead belonged to them from start to finish.
“That’s not an easy thing to do, to stay that consistent throughout the game, and that’s something we struggled with throughout the year,” forward Nate Adrian said. “Doing that was a good sign for us.”
Some programming notes from me.
- It’s getting real in the bracket challenge. Check out the standings. Wide-open, I’d say.
- Bear with me in this space. These next few days are going to be tricky. I’ve got a lot to do today to make sure I’m ready for my 7 a.m. flight tomorrow. Prepare for a placeholder post or two tomorrow. Everything on media day Wednesday is going to be later than normal, too, because the site operates on Pacific Standard Time. Practice is 3-3:50 p.m. EST and the interviews follow, and I’ve got to make deadlines for the first edition.
- Should WVU defeat Gonzaga on Thursday, the media day schedule Friday is going to be late, too. There is no open practice that day, and the interviews are at 6:40 p.m. EST. In short, there might not be the normal amount of activity here, or it won’t be at the ordinary times, but there are trappings with which we must deal when we get shipped out west.
That said, I’ll have something for you. Don’t let your guard down…