Picking up where they left off
SPOKANE, Wash. - The snow has covered Spokane, the home of No. 21 Gonzaga and the site of West Virginia University's men's basketball regular season opener.
Now, Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins is hoping his Monday midnight made-for-TV matchup against the 1-0 Zags will cover up last season's 77-54 NCAA tournament loss to the hosts.
"Last year, they beat us in transition," Huggins said. "We did a very poor job of running offense and they pretty much just made shots. [Gonzaga coach] Mark Few said it was their best shooting all year."
For WVU, though, it's a fresh start. Gone is all-Big East selection Kevin Jones. Gone is guard Truck Bryant. Gone is, well, the Big East, replaced by a Big 12 conference schedule.
In are transfers like 6-foot-10 junior Aaric Murray, who sat out last season after transferring from La Salle; 6-1 sophomore guard Juwan Staten, who sat out last season after transferring from Dayton; and 6-5 senior guard Matt Humphrey, who transferred from Boston College and is immediately eligible.
They join veterans like 6-9 Deniz Kilicli, who led WVU in scoring with 19 points in the team's 95-53 exhibition victory over Glenville State. Staten was next with 16 points. Still, Huggins wasn't happy.
"We need to run better offense," said the coach. "We need to take care of the ball. We need to rebound so much better. Way, way, way better."
Gonzaga lost center Robert Sacre, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the last pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, from last year's team. But it seems he's been replaced nicely by Few.
In the Zags' season opener on Friday, 7-1 freshman Przemek Karnowski from Poland scored 22 points in a 103-65 win over Southern Utah.
He joins a veteran team that returns four starters from a year ago: Elias Harris, Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, Jr. and Mike Hart.
Gonzaga is seeking its 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance and is the preseason pick to win the West Coast Conference.
"Their style isn't going to change from last year's game," Huggins said. "They'll try to push it up the floor. Their guards can really shoot. They try to stretch you. They're really skilled; they can make shots."
WVU, meanwhile, had trouble converting 3-point shots last season and hit just 7.1 percent against Glenville.
"We were 1-for-14," Huggins said. "But Louisville was 1-of-19 against Bellarmine. We'll shoot it a lot better."
"We've got a chance," said the Mountaineer coach. "We've got to do a better job running the offense, rebounding the ball and taking care of the ball, but we've got a chance."
The game will be televised by ESPN beginning at 11:59 p.m. ET. For complete postgame coverage, visit the Gazette's website at www.wvgazette.com early Tuesday or Wednesday's newspaper edition.