Hall of Fame Matchup
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Two coaches with more than 1,500 combined wins and five Final Four appearances will match wits Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum when West Virginia plays host to 16th-ranked Connecticut.
West Virginia's Bob Huggins has taken two different schools to Final Fours and is closing in on 700 career coaching victories.
Connecticut's Jim Calhoun has won a pair of national titles with the Huskies and is six wins shy of reaching 850 for his career. Calhoun, who has won six times at the WVU Coliseum, needs one more victory to join Jim Boeheim as the only two coaches in Big East history with 300 or more wins in conference play.
The Mountaineers will face another coaching legend this weekend when Rick Pitino brings his Louisville Cardinals to town.
On Tuesday, Huggins was asked to list what he believes are some of the qualities and characteristics that make outstanding coaches such as Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino.
"Most people would think they're crazy," Huggins joked. "There is so much single-mindedness of purpose probably is a good way to put it. You read about Coach (Bob) Knight going down and spending time with Clair Bee or spending time with the older kind of innovators. He was very close with Pete Newell. I think if you really know (some of the great coaches) ... everybody had time to spend with guys who did what we do very well before us."
Huggins said he was fortunate to be around some great coaches when he first got started in the business such as Knight, Lou Carnesecca and Al McGuire, and he frequently tried to pick their brains.
"Al kind of put his arm around me and took me in and I got to spend a lot of time with Al and talked to him about different things," Huggins said. "Those things are valuable and guys like that have a better understanding of history; a better understanding of how the game has evolved and why it has evolved.
"Ninety percent of what we do I learned from my dad, but the game changes," Huggins said. "It's not the same game my dad coached and it's not the same game those guys coached. But I think to get to where (the coaching greats are today) you have an understanding of not just what's going on now, but why it's going on and you're able to convey that to a degree."
Those who really enjoy the game and want to get a better understanding of what goes on should pay close attention to what Calhoun and Huggins are doing Wednesday night because those two are among the very best in the business at coaching on their feet.
To beat a Jim Calhoun or a Rick Pitino, Huggins believes opposing coaches have to somehow try and anticipate what they will do in key situations of a game.
"You try and find tendencies," Huggins explained. "You try and find what they're comfortable with in certain situations or what they're going to go to when they need to go to something. I've coached against Coach Knight, Denny Crum, on and on and on. I've been very fortunate and I've learned a lot from those guys."
According to Huggins, some of the most valuable lessons he's learned in coaching have been the in-game adjustments he was forced to make against the Knights, Crums and McGuires of years gone by.
"For instance, when we played against Coach Knight they back-cut you, they back-screen you but if you overrun a back-cut or a back-screen they are going to re-screen you," Huggins said. "We worked really hard on back-cuts and back-screens and we got re-screened. Then you have to go back and spend a lot of time on the other part of it.
"They do a great job of teaching progressions, and if you want to guard it from a defensive standpoint, then you have to teach progressions as well so you're able to make adjustments when they make adjustments," Huggins added.
- Connecticut junior guard Kemba Walker is averaging 22.8 points per game and already has the second-most 30-point games in Husky history with seven. Walker scored 21 against the Mountaineers last year in the XL Center, although he made just 3 of his 10 field goal attempts.
"I think he's got a lot of great attributes," said Huggins. "He's got great speed but he's got great quickness; he's got a great understanding. I think he does a great job of reading defenses. He really knows how to play."
Huggins said he's not sure how to guard him.
"We're going to try and do some things but he's really good," he said. "You can't let him go crazy but you can't let him get his and let him help everybody else get theirs too."
Walker's ability to drive to the basket is a contributing factor to 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi's becoming one of the best rebounders in the Big East. Oriakhi has grabbed a team-best 107 offensive boards and is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game.
"Walker and Oriakhi are the two mainstays they have back and they're playing a bunch of freshmen," said Huggins. "Those freshmen have had really good years, but I think (Walker has) aided them in having really good years."
- What did Marquette do against Connecticut in a 74-67 win that Cincinnati was unable to do in a 67-59 loss to the Huskies? Nothing really, according to Huggins. Connecticut made shots against Cincinnati (23 of 46) and it missed them against Marquette (28 of 77).
"You watch the Marquette game they had shots and they just didn't make them," Huggins noted. "You watch the Cincinnati game and they made them. (Forward) Roscoe Smith goes 1 for 8 against Marquette and then he goes 3 for 4 from 3 against Cincinnati. I don't know, how do you explain that? It's the same shots."
- The one common characteristic of all UConn teams under Jim Calhoun is their great size and athleticism. Wednesday night, Connecticut will start three players taller than 6-7 and Calhoun has a 7-footer in senior Charles Okwandu that he can go to off the bench.
"They've got great size," said Huggins. "For years and years they've led the country in shot blocks. Jim has always taken great pride in his team's ability to rebound the basketball. They do a lot of things well, but they're like everybody else, they play a whole lot better when they make shots."
- Connecticut has had great success in Morgantown under Calhoun, beginning with an overtime victory over the Mountaineers in the 1988 NIT. Overall, Connecticut is 6-2 against West Virginia at the WVU Coliseum with the two losses coming in 1998 and 2006.
- West Virginia needs just one more victory in its remaining two games to assure its sixth consecutive winning season in Big East play. The Mountaineers have won 62% of their games in conference action since 2006.
- Guard Truck Bryant is now 32 points shy of reaching 1,000 for his career. WVU teammate Kevin Jones reached the 1,000-point plateau earlier this year and now shows 1,085 career points to rank 38th on the school's all-time scoring list.
Bryant has made two or more field goals in four of his last five games and is averaging 12.8 points and 6.4 assists during that span of games.
- After posting back-to-back games of 19 and 12 points against Pitt and DePaul, sophomore forward Deniz Kilicli has scored just 12 points in his last four outings.
- Forward John Flowers has had at least one blocked shot in 25 out of 28 games this year and is second in the Big East with 65 blocks. Flowers has 148 blocks heading into Wednesday night's game, good for fifth all-time at WVU.
- There are still tickets remaining for Wednesday night's game and those left can be purchased by logging onto WVUGAME.com. Saturday's game against Louisville was previously announced a sellout.
- Tipoff for Wednesday's game is 7 p.m. ESPN2 (John Saunders and Fran Fraschilla) will televise the game nationally. Those unable to watch the game in front of the television can also catch the game on ESPN3.com.
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