NCAA tournament: Rebounding key to West Virginia-Duke matchup


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Two years ago, West Virginia outrebounded Duke by 20 in a game the Mountaineers won, 73-67.

Don't expect that statistic to be repeated, though, when the two teams meet Saturday in the second game of the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Duke is much improved in the post this time around with better size, making it a stronger rebounding team.

That doesn't mean that the Mountaineers won't try to -- or can't -- dominate the glass, because that has been their forte all season. But the rebounding edge might be the key to the game.

"They are more physical and they are bigger than what I remember from the last game," said West Virginia senior Da'Sean Butler. "They do a very good job of rebounding, especially offensive rebounding, but that is one of the things we pride ourselves on -- we try to make sure every team only gets one shot [per possession].

"And we also have been good at offensive rebounding ourselves. But they do a good job of blocking out, so we need to make it a team effort and really do our best to make sure we go get the basketball."

Butler is one of six Mountaineers who played against Duke in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2008, and he said that rebounding and being physical under the basket are the two biggest changes in the Blue Devils.

West Virginia (31-6) will play Duke (33-5) Saturday in the second game of the Final Four doubleheader. The winner will advance to Monday's championship game against Michigan State (28-8) or Butler (32-4).

The Mountaineers have outrebounded their opponents by an average of seven per game this season, but in their 73-66 win Saturday against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, they were outrebounded by 15, including 24-10 on the offensive end.

West Virginia knows repeating that against Duke is a recipe for defeat because the Blue Devils, unlike the Wildcats, generally take advantage of those extra possessions and cash in on offensive rebounds. Duke also is outrebounding its opponents by seven per game, and second-chance points are a big part of its arsenal.

In a 78-71 victory Sunday against Baylor, Duke had the edge in second-chance points, 32-16, and more important, got six of those points late in a game-deciding stretch.

And the Blue Devils have won that statistic -- second-chance points -- in all four of their tournament wins (65-29). Combine that with the fact the Blue Devils also had more points in the paint in three of their four wins, and it is clear this group is not the team that was pushed around in early tournament exits the past few years.

West Virginia sophomore forward Devin Ebanks said the Mountaineers hope that playing in the physical Big East has them well-prepared and will give them an edge. But Ebanks is quick to point out that the Mountaineers' bread and butter is defense, and that's what Bob Huggins' team hopes to ride all the way to the national championship.

"We don't like to be scored on and we are going to limit everybody's scoring as much as we can," Ebanks said. "That is the way that our games go, and it has definitely been fun knowing that you can shut the other person down and outrebound them and outman them and out-tough them. That is definitely a fun way to play.

"But [rebounding] is very important because [Duke] is very similar to us, they are built on rebounding and defense, and so these are two similar teams going at each other. It should be fun."


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720


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