CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Of all the thousands of basketball tournament games played over the next month or so, it'd be hard to find a more closely matched pairing than tonight's West Virginia Conference men's quarterfinal game between the University of Charleston and Wheeling Jesuit.
The teams in the 6:30 p.m. showdown at the Civic Center played two regular-season games, with WJ winning both - but by scores of 68-67 (Jan. 26 at UC) and 86-80 in double-overtime (Feb. 21 in Wheeling).
Both teams went 14-8 in league play, with Wheeling Jesuit (18-9 overall) earning the No. 4 seed and the home white jerseys tonight by virtue of the Cardinals' regular-season wins over the fifth-seeded Golden Eagles (19-8).
"We're different kinds of teams but we're pretty evenly matched," UC coach Mark Downey said of the Cardinals. "They found a way to win in the end both times, but they were two really good games against each other. We had our chances but we didn't get it done."
Although both were tightly contested, Downey said the two games with WJ came with alternating styles.
"They outrebounded us in the first game here, that's what cost us," he said. "We did a better job of that in the game up there, it was played more to our style, but what hurt us were turnovers. They had 18 steals that led to some easy baskets for them.
"[Today] we have to do a good job of attacking their zone and not turn the ball over."
The double-OT loss to Wheeling Jesuit is UC's only setback in its last five games. The Golden Eagles advanced to the quarterfinals with a 97-83 win over rival West Virginia State in the opening round at Eddie King Gym.
Wheeling Jesuit comes in even hotter. If you could throw out the Cardinals' two losses to WVC-ruling West Liberty - most recently Saturday's 101-76 road drubbing - they'd have 12 straight wins.
UC is the only team to beat top-ranked West Liberty this year, 101-96 on Jan. 21 at EKG, but the Golden Eagles followed that by going 3-5 in their next eight games.
Since then, they seem to have righted the ship.
"We've been doing some good things lately," Downey said. We've been playing kinda loose and well offensively. I like where we are."
The Golden Eagles are led by the trio of 6-foot junior guard Terrell Lipkins, an All-WVC first-team selection scoring 17.4 points per game; Evan Faulkner, a 6-1 senior guard averaging 13.4; and 6-4 junior guard Robbie Dreher, scoring at an 11.2 clip.
Wheeling Jesuit's top guns are 6-1 guard Justin Fritts (15.6 points per game), the WVC's freshman of the year; 6-3 senior guard Ben Seifert (15.4), an All-WVC first-teamer; 6-2 senior guard Recardo Gaddy (13.1); and 6-6 senior forward Joe Prati (12.1).