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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Rise and shine because West Virginia is going to be playing a little mid-morning basketball on Thursday during the opening day of the Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Mountaineers will take on Davidson at 11:30 a.m. Thursday and could turn around and play another early afternoon game against either Nebraska or Vanderbilt on Friday.
Other teams in San Juan include Hofstra, Minnesota, North Carolina and Western Kentucky. Other games Thursday include Nebraska taking on Vanderbilt at 1:30, eighth-rated North Carolina battling Hofstra at 5 p.m. and Minnesota playing Western Kentucky at 7:30 p.m.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins believes the early tip on Thursday will provide good preparation for his team when tournament time arrives in March.
“As I told our guys, you play early morning games in the NCAA tournament and you play early morning games in the Big East tournament,” Huggins said. “The way it shakes out, we haven’t had a lot a lot of holidays so obviously we haven’t had a lot of practices in the morning.”
The competition down in San Juan will also help the Mountaineers become tournament tested, beginning with Thursday’s game against Davidson. Two years ago, 23rd-ranked Davidson defeated West Virginia 68-65 in New York City in the Jimmy V Classic. Guard Stephen Curry scored 27 points and hit the game-winning shot to beat the Mountaineers.
Guard Truck Bryant, then a freshman, was forced to play 27 minutes when Joe Mazzulla reinjured his shoulder and had to leave the game. Bryant wound up scoring 13 points for the Mountaineers.
“The first thing I remember is losing,” Bryant said. “We lost the game and we owe them. It’s definitely not a game to be playing around. We need to go down there focused and be serious.”
Davidson (0-1) slipped to 16-15 last year without Curry and is 0-1 to start this season after losing its opener to Penn, 69-64. The Wildcats got 12 points each from guard Brendan McKillop (the son of Davidson coach Bob McKillop) and forward Clint Mann, and received 11 points off the bench from freshman forward De’Mon Brooks.
Six-ten sophomore forward Jake Cohen also contributed 10 points and four rebounds against the Quakers. Huggins believes Davidson will try and make it a half-court game on Thursday.
“Their big people do get out and run pretty well but they’re going to pack it in and make sure we make perimeter shots,” Huggins said. “And they run good offense. They pass the ball very well; they’re really unselfish and they’re going to try and throw it close.
“I think their big guys are a very large part of what they do and then when you over help on their bigs they make shots,” said Huggins.
West Virginia is coming off a 51-percent shooting performance during last Friday’s 95-71 victory over Oakland at the WVU Coliseum. The Mountaineers hit 12 3s and shot 66.7 percent in the first half against the Golden Grizzlies. Six different players reached double figures, including John Flowers’ career-high 16 points to go with seven blocks.
“John has gotten really, really good at the defensive end and I think he’s really improved his shooting and his decision making at the offensive end,” said Huggins. “He’s been far and away our most improved guy.”
Flowers, who converted 6 of 9 from the free throw line against Oakland, has really made strides with shooting stroke under Huggins.
“I think the hardest thing was to change his mechanics,” Huggins explained. “I think that’s with anybody who comes in with sub-par mechanics. You’re so used to shooting it a certain way and then to change, particularly during the season, it is very difficult. But John has really put a lot of time in. John probably puts as much time in the gym as anyone we have.”
Mazzulla came off the bench to contributed 15 points against Oakland, while the Mountaineers got 12 points each from Deniz Kilicli, Casey Mitchell and Bryant.
The starting lineup Huggins used for the opener consisted of Bryant and Mitchell at guards, Flowers and junior Kevin Jones at forwards and Kilicli at center.
Thursday’s game will be televised nationally on ESPNU. MSN’s coverage begins with the Coliseum Countdown at 11 a.m.