With 8:19 to play Wednesday night, Bob Huggins turned up the defensive pressure.
It started with more of a press on an inbounds pass. And for the next five minutes, Malik Curry stayed glued to whichever UConn ball handler was bringing the ball up the court.
West Virginia went from trailing by two points, to being ahead by one during that time span.
Following a made free throw from Pauly Paulicap with 3:06 remaining, Huggins changed the defense one again. This time, though, pulled a defensive scheme out of his back pocket.
Huggins deployed the 1-3-1 defense.
“We spent two days, just a small part of two days, on it,” Huggins said after the game. “I figured, nobody’s seen it for two or three years so, give it a shot.”
He had been saving it for the right time, and a one-point lead over the No. 15 team in the country late in the game qualified.
“It seemed like the right thing to do,” Huggins added.
Over the final 3:06 of the game, UConn was limited to just two points and missed seven shots. Had it not been for a third-chance putback, the Huskies would’ve been held scoreless over that time.
Dimon Carrigan was at the top of the scheme. Gabe Osabuohien anchored it in the paint.
West Virginia held on to win, 56-53.
UConn head coach Dan Hurley said afterwards that he hadn’t seen that defense from WVU on any of this season’s tape.
According to Huggins’ post-game comments, it’s a scheme he hasn’t used in a few years.
With as well as it worked against the Huskies Wednesday night, the question now is: will Huggins use it again this year? Or maybe, how often will he use it?
“Well, I think we’ve got enough length. We can do it,” Huggins said on Friday. “Our problem is going to be rebounding the ball.”
Rebounding could be the only thing stopping Huggins from deploying it more often this season.
West Virginia averages the second-fewest rebounds per game in the Big 12, and is the only team in the conference that has a negative rebounding margin this year.
With the 1-3-1 in action, UConn grabbed one more rebound than West Virginia. The extra rebound led to the Huskies’ only points over the final three minutes of the game.
Rebounding aside, the head coach feels he’s got the personnel to use it effectively.
“[Dimon] on top of it is really good, because he’s so long and he’s hard to pass around or see over. Gabe just eats everything up in the middle. If you drive it to the middle, he’s going to stop it,” Huggins said after the win.
Huggins also noted that the Mountaineers have used multiple defensive schemes through nine game this year: press, man-to-man, zone, and point drop. Now the 1-3-1 is added to that list.
“We have historically played a bunch of stuff just to make people spend time guarding it,” said Huggins. “The more time they take away from the other preparation, the better we are.”
Opposing teams will have to take time to prepare for the 1-3-1 now. There’s no telling when Huggins may use it again.
Not only that, but the 1-3-1 might not be the only rabbit that ‘The Bear’ pulls out of his proverbial hat this season. He said Friday that he’s got a list of previous schemes he has run that’s, “pretty good.”
What else could Huggins be hiding up his sleeve?