MORGANTOWN - After West Virginia defeated No. 16 Connecticut on Wednesday night, Huskies coach Jim Calhoun spoke about his team and the rugged Big East.
"I said kiddingly that we were going to skip the Big East tournament and go to an easier one - the NCAA's," Calhoun said.
Now, certainly, WVU and UConn both will participate in the upcoming NCAA tourney. If there was any doubt about the Mountaineers, that was erased on Tuesday night via the 65-56 win. With 19 wins against one of the nation's toughest schedules, WVU is going dancing.
Connecticut could win at now-No. 7 Texas. It defeated then-No. 2 Michigan State and now-No. 20 Kentucky in Hawaii. It couldn't, however, defeat WVU on Wednesday.
There were many suggested reasons for West Virginia's impressive victory. Some offered the effectiveness of the point drop zone the Mountaineers used for much of the second half. Connecticut's dribble penetration was limited.
Calhoun, however, didn't buy that theory.
"We've faced the matchup zone in the last four games," Calhoun said. "We were prepared for that. I don't think that affected us. Of course, when we come down and quickly put up a 26-foot shot, I don't know what they're in. They could all be laying down. It wouldn't matter."
He offered, instead, a more fundamental reason for the loss.
"[WVU] won in what I would consider to be Bob Huggins' style, which is, down the stretch, with 2:12 to go, they out-toughed us," Calhoun said. "We needed to play physically inside and get some rebounds. You don't expect the game to get away from you with 2:12 left, but we made some very poor choices on offense and we didn't do a good job the whole game of taking away their post play."
Calhoun was taunted all night by WVU's student section as a "cheater" because of recent NCAA sanctions, but he's also in the Hall of Fame. Yes, WVU had to do a better job against UConn's ball screens. And it did.
But West Virginia's team is tough. Huggins is tough. Joe Mazzulla is tough. Ditto John Flowers and Kevin Jones and Cam Thoroughman.
The team certainly isn't great. It isn't particularly skilled. Can't shoot a lick. It might get whacked in the first round of the Big East tournament or the NCAA tournament. But give the Mountaineers credit for their intelligence and doggedness - and for making the NCAA grade.
Huggins is terrific whipping up plays after timeouts. He too will be in that Hall of Fame. Mazzulla could be a coach. ("In the scouting report," Mazzulla said, "the only guy effective off the dribble was Kemba Walker... In the last six minutes we wore him down and didn't give him easy catches.")
The other players have caught on. Huggins said on one trip down the floor, Mazzulla asked how the coach wanted the team to defend UConn's staggers, which are separated simultaneous screens for the same cutter. A second later, Flowers asked if the Mountaineers were supposed to switch on the staggers.