The junior has hit nine of West Virginia’s 14 3-pointers over its last two games, and has made 20 of its 43 from behind the arc over the last five outings. Ruoff is shooting 52.5 percent (31 of 59) from the floor during that spurt, so its not as though he is simply gunning shots to pad outside shooting numbers. Even his worst shooting performance – six of 17 against Notre Dame, four of 12 from 3-point range – included all but one WVU trey.
In the Mountaineers’ 79-64 upset of then-No. 10 Marquette, Ruoff drained a season-best five of seven from 3-point range, accounting for more than half of West Virginia’s nine threes. The guard scored a team-best tying 19 points, making all four free throws, and adding four assists, one block and two steals for arguably the finest all-around line of the game. All six of his shots versus Canisius were threes, the only ones taken by WVU all game. He made four, that coming one game after he hit nine of 14 shots against Radford, including five of nine threes.
If it reads like Ruoff is the most consistent Mountaineer scoring threat, it’s because he is. Averaging a team-leading 16.4 points per game, Ruoff has amassed similar numbers against ranked foes and major conference teams as he has lesser opponents. He doesn’t wilt versus better competition, while also playing within the team game and framework of the offense enough to allow others point production when needed. Only Da’Sean Butler’s 46.7 percent from 3-point range rivals that of Ruoff’s 46.6, and Butler has taken 30 shots compared to Ruoff’s 103. Overall, the Spring Hill, Fla. native is hitting a sizzling 54.1 percent from the field (79-146), second, again, to Butler when comparing the lone five players to see an average of more than seven minutes per game.
“The threes can kind of pull you away,” Ruoff said after the Marquette win. “Really, our level of play had been down some since the Auburn game and each game we’ve played since then we have been saying ‘let’s get it back to that level of intensity.’ We got back to that level, so let’s keep it going.”
The forward canned three threes in four minutes in a key late second half push that put the Mountaineers (11-3, 1-1 Big East) ahead 66-54 with less than three minutes left. With Marquette within three at 53-50 after two free throws and a front end 1-and-1 miss by Joe Mazzulla, Ruoff spotted up in the corner and hit a three to extend the edge to two possessions. After John Flowers added a basket and the Golden Eagles answered with a three to cut it to 58-53, Ruoff answered again, dropping in a three. He hit West Virginia next field goal as well, another three approximately 90 seconds later that pushed the advantage to a dozen with 2:56 to play. It would also be the last WVU field goal, as Marquette would foul down the stetch. Ruoff hit four free throws in the final minute, including the last two for the final margin.
The Mountaineers will need another round of big shots and solid all-around play tonight, when it plays at Louisville (10-4, 0-1) at 7 p.m. on ESPN. The Cardinals won at Kentucky on Jan. 5, but have already lost at home to Cincinnati and Dayton and dropped a neutral site (Las Vegas) contest to Brigham Young. UofL is holding foes to 31.2 percent from 3-point range, nearly the exact same percentage as that of WVU’s defense. It isn’t allowing a lot of open looks, but if West Virginia can drive and get into the Cards, then take the best option of a physical finish or kick out, it can exploit a smaller, quicker lineup that resembles that of Marquette but plays a bit bigger. The zone match-ups are there, especially for Ruoff if he can get help, but West Virginia must shoot well.
“Defensively he’s changed a bunch,” Huggins said of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. “He used to be more full-court man-to-man, run and jump and really put a lot of pressure on you. Now they’re more two-two-one and they play more zone than what they’ve played. He’s played a lot of zone since he’s been at Louisville. We’ve got to be able to rebound the ball and they’re going to play a lot of zone so we’re going to have to make some shots.”
Ruoff made just two of 13 shots in West Virginia’s 82-71 double overtime loss to Louisville in the Big East Tournament last year. He missed five of his six threes and never found a rhythm. He played just three minutes in the 2006 meeting in Morgantown, and thus is looking to both extend his current streak and prove the last contest an anomaly.