WVU to Battle Clemson
TAMPA – Bob Huggins is well versed in the travel obstacles Clemson has had to deal with playing a late game in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday night and then traveling to Tampa, Fla., to play West Virginia this afternoon at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Huggins and his West Virginia basketball team went through something similar two years ago before its 2009 NCAA tournament game against Dayton in Minneapolis, Minn. However, instead of playing a game, the plane the NCAA chartered for the Mountaineers never arrived and the team had to scramble to get another aircraft to take them to Minnesota. West Virginia eventually arrived at 5 in the morning.
“Yeah, very much the same kind of deal, although we didn’t play a game,” Huggins said.
West Virginia played poorly against the Flyers in a 68-60 first-round loss. But Huggins isn’t sure Clemson’s unique travel circumstances will be a factor this afternoon.
“Kids today, they play at 2 and they go get a hamburger and French fries and a chocolate shake and they come back and play at 6,” Huggins said. “It’s kind of a different breed of athletes. I think they’ll be fine.”
First-year Clemson coach Brad Brownell was asked Wednesday to provide an account of his team’s journey from Dayton to Tampa. The Tigers didn’t leave the arena until 1 a.m. and was then forced to wait at the airport.
“We had to wait around a little bit there for I guess some fuel problems (with the aircraft),” Brownell said. “We really got down here about 5 when we got to the hotel; let the guys sleep until close to noon and got them up, had breakfast/brunch, then watched film on West Virginia and talked about West Virginia with our guys for about an hour.”
Brownell said on Wednesday evening that he is interested to see how his team responds today after a day of recovery.
“(Wednesday) morning I woke up even after three hours and I was excited and refreshed and really good,” he said. “Later (Wednesday afternoon) I had a little time where I got a little tired. I think we’ll really be ready. I’ll notice if our defense isn’t the way it needs to be that we might have a little fatigue and then we’ve got to figure things out.”
Defense is Clemson’s calling card, the Tigers ranking 20th in the nation in scoring defense giving up an average of just 60.9 points per game and 28th in field goal percentage allowing opponents to shoot just 40% from the floor.
Six-eight senior forward Jerai Grant is 23rd in the country in blocks average 2.4 per game.
Grant had a block in Tuesday’s 70-52 win over UAB and finished with a game-high 22 points to go with seven rebounds. Grant shows averages of 12.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Six-two guard Demontez Stitt is Clemson’s leading scorer averaging 14.4 points per game. Stitt has also handed out a team-best 104 assists and is shooting 43.7% from the floor.
Five-nine guard Andre Young is Clemson’s top 3-point shooter, hitting 76 of 194, while averaging 10.8 points per game. Young made two in the UAB win.
“I really like their team,” said Huggins. “They’ve got good perimeter shooters, they’ve got good ball handlers and they’ve got four or five bigs that all play very well that all have played well at different times.”
Huggins said Clemson dominated UAB near the basket on Tuesday night.
“They just came out and decided they were going to throw it inside close and score, and they did,” Huggins said. “They were really working hard – they’re extremely physical.”
So is West Virginia. Brownell commented on West Virginia’s style of play on Wednesday.
“They have the qualities of their coach: very tough, very physical, strong will to win, competitive – a team that really plays inside-out,” Brownell said. “I’ve followed Coach Huggins’ teams from his days at Cincinnati and he always makes those guys play unbelievably hard and they rebound exceptionally well. They defend you on every possession. It’s hard to get easy baskets and they pound the ball at you inside.”
It’s been eight days since the Mountaineers last played against Marquette in the Big East tournament on March 8, West Virginia dropping a 67-61 decision.
West Virginia went 13 ½ minutes in the second half when it made just one field goal, turning a double-digit lead into a deficit. Forward Kevin Jones scored 15 points, but 13 of those came in the first half. The junior has been playing his best basketball of late, scoring double figures in each of his last four games including a 25-point, 16-rebound performance in a home win against Louisville on March 5.
Jones is averaging 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Guards Casey Mitchell (14.1 ppg.) and Truck Bryant (10.9 ppg.) are also averaging double figures, while 6-foot-7 senior forward John Flowers shows averages of 9.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while blocking a team-best 74 shots.
Huggins has said repeatedly that offense will dictate how far the team goes in this year’s tournament. If West Virginia can make some shots he believes his team can make another run.
“We’ve had pretty good shots; we’ve just got to make more of them,” he said. “We started the year out and Casey shot it really well and then he kind of went into a slump. And K.J. had a couple-week stretch when he shot it well. We’ve just got to make some shots, that’s all.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 12:15.
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