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WVU takes wrong turn

NEW YORK - It certainly doesn't rise to the level of some of West Virginia's recent and more egregious travel snafus, but the team did encounter a bit of a glitch Tuesday.

But, hey, what would Mountaineer basketball be without sitting and waiting out the occasional detour?

In the end, WVU's trip to the wrong practice site Tuesday only cost the team a half hour or so and certainly won't be an issue today when the No. 8 seeded Mountaineers (19-12) face ninth-seeded Connecticut (19-12) in the second round of the Big East tournament.

The noon game at Madison Square Garden will be televised by ESPN.

West Virginia, which earned a first-round bye in the tournament, was able to watch UConn beat DePaul 81-67 Tuesday to advance into today's second round. But despite staying in a hotel just across the street from the Garden, Huggins and the team didn't watch the game live, but on television.

"We had practice and I wanted to make sure we got there on time,'' Huggins said. "We got there on time, we just went to the wrong place.''

Big East tournament teams generally practice at whatever courts are available throughout Manhattan and the Mountaineers were to practice at the same one they have used in the past. The bus driver, though, was directed to the wrong one. When the team arrived, Marquette was there practicing.

"We have people who are in charge of that,'' Huggins said, noncommittal about whether those people would remain in charge of such matters. "I never really thought to double-check because it's really never happened before.''

After waiting 15 minutes and then traveling another 20 to the right health club, the team practiced apparently without incident. That's good, because the Mountaineers probably will need to be at the top of their game to beat Connecticut.

Yes, the Huskies are just the ninth seed, but they are also ranked in the top 35 in the RPI and considered a pretty sure bet to be an NCAA tournament selection.

This is also the program that a year ago won both the Big East and NCAA tournaments after an identical No. 9 seed in the league.

"They've got a team full of good players,'' Huggins said. "Everybody says [Jeremy] Lamb and [Andre] Drummond are lottery picks, Shabazz [Napier] is really good, Roscoe Smith is good.''

Huggins also obviously has a high opinion of freshman Ryan Boatright, who committed to WVU last year before changing his mind after Jabarie Hinds committed. Lamb had 25 points and Boatright 19 in UConn's Tuesday win over DePaul.

Perhaps just as concerning to the Mountaineers are UConn's inside players, Drummond and Alex Oriakhi. Drummond, a 6-foot-10, 270-pound freshman, is especially a concern.

When the teams played on Jan. 9 in Hartford, Conn., Drummond made nine of his 11 shots and had 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.

"He made shots,'' Huggins said of Drummond. "He made shots that normally he doesn't make. He made shots off the block. I thought he had a great game.''

In order for West Virginia to win and get into Thursday's noon quarterfinals against top-seeded and No. 2 Syracuse, the Mountaineers are likely to need strong performances from their two seniors, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant. Jones had 22 points in the first game between the teams, but less than half (five) his rebounding average of 11.2. Bryant was just 2-for-13 from the floor in that game and was also in foul trouble.

Huggins was asked if Jones not winning the Big East player of the year award, announced Tuesday, might be any kind of motivating factor for either Jones or the team as a whole.

"You would hope so, but honestly we've been appealing to them [late in the season] to get Truck and K.J. out in the right way,'' Huggins said. "You hope so. I thought we played as hard as we've played all year at South Florida.''

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 

 


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