By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
February 19, 2008
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia is preparing for a much more traditional Villanova lineup when it faces the Wildcats Wednesday night at the Pavilion in Villanova, Pa.
In the past, Coach Jay Wright has employed three and four-guard lineups with only one big man on the floor. This year, Wright has been playing a more traditional two-forward, two-guard and one center starting lineup.
“Actually the last game they started two guys that can and do play in the post,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “I think they’re probably more of what you would call traditional than maybe they were a year ago but they’re still very perimeter oriented.”
Villanova (15-9, 5-7) rebounded from its controversial two-point loss to Georgetown by going on the road and knocking off St. John’s 60-42. The Wildcats used a 16-2 run to open the game and never trailed.
Freshman Corey Stokes came off the bench to lead Villanova with 13 points and 6-foot-8-inch, 230-pound forward Dante Cunningham finished with 12.
Leading scorer Scottie Reynolds left the game with 13:57 to play with an ankle injury and did not return. He finished with six points, 10 below his season average of 16.6 points per game. Wright said afterward that Reynolds could have returned if the outcome was in doubt.
Giving Villanova a big boost has been the play of Corey Fisher in the backcourt. The 6-1 guard is averaging 10.7 points per game and more importantly has been able to take some of pressure off of Reynolds out on the perimeter.
“It gives them another ball handler and it gives them another guy who can score off the bounce,” Huggins said of Fisher. “He gives them another guy they can ball screen for. I think they can get Scottie off the ball a little more than they could a year ago.”
Despite having a 6-10 center in Casiem Drummond and a pair of forwards, Huggins still sees Villanova as being perimeter oriented.
“They still play four out to a large degree,” he said.
West Virginia comes into Wednesday night’s game following a 21-point home win over Seton Hall on Sunday. Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff each scored 15 points for the Mountaineers, which handled Seton Hall on the glass by a 47-26 margin. WVU shot 53.7 percent for the game and made 11 of 24 from 3-point range.
Six-eight forward Joe Alexander leads four double-digit scorers with an average of 14.3 points per game. Alexander is shooting 44.6 percent from the floor and is grabbing 6.0 boards per game.
Ruoff shows averages of 14.2 points and 1.6 steals per game. The 6-6 guard has made a team-best 72 3-point field goals but has made just 4 of his last 14 from 3 in games against Rutgers and Seton Hall.
Butler is averaging 12.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting a team-best 49 percent from the floor. Butler has a team-best 54 offensive rebounds.
Senior guard Darris Nichols is also averaging double figures at 11.9 points per game. Nichols recently set the school record for games played with 129 against Seton Hall.
Sophomore forward Wellington Smith has scored 22 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in his last two games against Rutgers and Seton Hall coming off the bench. The 6-foot-7-inch forward also blocked six shots against the Pirates.
“From an execution standpoint and a knowledge standpoint we’re certainly way ahead of where we were when the season started,” Huggins said. “I think our understanding of how to do things is a whole lot better.”
Huggins said that redshirt freshman forward Cam Thoroughman missed the Seton Hall game with an ankle injury.
“He just couldn’t go,” Huggins said. “In all honesty he hasn’t practice since.”
Both teams are in need of a victory on Wednesday night to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. The Wildcats have suffered a couple of tough conference losses and have dropped six of their last eight. Villanova is 9-2 at home this year including 3-2 in conference play.
West Virginia (18-7, 7-5) has won a pair of Big East home games against Rutgers and Seton Hall and is searching for its third conference road victory of the year after already winning at South Florida and at Providence.
The Mountaineers and Wildcats have played some entertaining games of late. West Virginia has actually won the last three meetings and four of the last five including a 91-87 victory over No. 3 Villanova on Jan. 8, 2006.
West Virginia is 3-5 at the Pavilion and is 8-9 overall against the Wildcats since joining the Big East. Overall, Villanova holds a 19-17 lead in the series.
Huggins has never faced Villanova or Wildcat coach Jay Wright.
Tip off is 8 pm and the game will be televised locally on ESPN Plus. Sirius Satellite Radio listeners can access the MSN broadcast on channel 127; Internet users can get access the broadcast by using your CSTV All-Access subscription package.
The MSN pre-game show begins at 7:30 pm with The Mountaineers Today.