CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When West Virginia State and Charleston get together, geography dictates a rivalry game should ensue.
While the student bodies and fans treat it as such, it's hard to tell just how much it matters to the players, the vast majority of whom aren't even from the area.
UC's Tino diTrapano (George Washington) and State's Bo King (Charleston Catholic), who is out with an injury, are the only two players on either squad from the Charleston area.
Still, as the two teams meet for the first time this year today at 6 p.m. at Eddie King Gym, there's no doubt in UC coach Mark Downey's mind as to where this game stands.
"It definitely is," Downey said of the game's status as a rivalry. "We've got a lot of new guys this year as well as they do, but it'll be interesting as to how both teams handle it. There will be a big crowd. I remember last year, the new guys they had were really excited to play the game. I think the returning guys get to the new guys and tell them about the bragging rights and cross-town rivalry and things. I know I talk about how they dominated the rivalry before last year. It's not really a rivalry when they're winning every game.
"It'll be a slugfest again, whether it's high scoring or low scoring. It's always a tough, close hard-fought boxing match really."
West Virginia State coach Bryan Poore agreed, but said once the game starts all the extra stuff should go away.
"I think some of the returning guys that have played in this game before can help," Poore said. "But once the ball goes up in the air, it's going to be a game. It could say 'Timbuktu' on the other uniform, but you hope that you've got guys that when the lights come on and the ball goes up in the air, they're ready to play."
The Jackets (6-7 overall, 4-4 West Virginia Conference) sure treated it like a rivalry the first two times the teams met last year as State, which came in with a meager .500 record while UC rolled in at 12-4, pulled off a 60-59 upset.
That win came in the midst of a four-game winning streak for the Yellow Jackets, and while UC got its revenge in the second meeting at Institute, it was just by six points.
"The thing they've done to us in the past is they've really gone to the offensive glass and tried to be physical with us," Downey said. "They did that last year in the first game at home. We've got to do a good job of keeping them off the glass. [David] Ford and [Raymon] Austin are two big bruisers and they're going to try and pound it into them. They don't shoot the ball real well but they always seem to shoot it better against us. We've really got to guard them, keep them out of the paint, and we've got to rebound the ball. We've just got to go get it."
Austin (6-foot-8, 220 pounds) returned from injury after the break and has twice posted double-doubles, including 26 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday's win over Shepherd.
Ford has been State's most consistent player over the past two seasons. He also notched a double-double Thursday with 18 points and 10 boards.
UC (10-2, 6-2) is riding a hot hand of its own.
Terrell Lipkins ranks eighth in the WVC in scoring at 17.9 points per game and sixth in assists with 5.36 per contest, but Downey said Lipkins' rebounding has made a huge difference lately. The point guard is averaging 5.9 boards and could play a pivotal role in slowing down State's big guys.
"He's a dynamic player," Downey said. "He's been through a lot. He's had three deaths in the family in the last three months or so and it's been a little bit tough to keep him focused because of that, understandably. But when he's on, he's really, really good. We need some other guys to start following suit."