Big Monday Preview
Win and the Mountaineers are back on track. Lose and they drop to .500 in Big East play and slide down toward the bottom of the league standings.
According to Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins, West Virginia’s controversial two-point loss at Syracuse on Saturday stung just as much as its 16-point loss at St. John’s on Wednesday night because both count the same in the standings.
“I told them because we didn’t come to play on Wednesday that we put ourselves in a heck of a hole,” said Huggins.
Senior forward Kevin Jones, who scored a game-high 20 points against Syracuse – his seventh consecutive 20-point performance, agrees.
“We put ourselves in a bad predicament right now and we’ve just got to dig ourselves out of it,” Jones said. “It’s not impossible, but it’s going to take everybody’s effort and everybody’s hard work and I think we have to do it as a team.”
West Virginia (15-7, 5-4) played much better against fourth-ranked Syracuse, leading for most of the first half and remaining within a possession or two of the Orange for most of the game. Even after officials missed an obvious goal tend that would have tied the game with nine seconds left, the Mountaineers had another shot at winning the game when Jones’ 3 from the wing grazed the back of the iron at the horn.
Huggins isn’t sure he got the play he drew up at the end partly because he isn’t sure his young players had totally gotten over the blown call.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You’ve got 30 seconds and you’re trying to get them refocused and they’re all thinking about other things. I honestly don’t know if we ran what I wanted to run. We got the ball to Jabarie (Hinds), which is who I wanted to have the ball.
“I wanted him to be able to penetrate and either make a play or pitch it,” Huggins said. “I wanted KJ away because he was making shots and I knew they wouldn’t leave Truck (Bryant), but maybe a big would leave KJ. We didn’t get them to bite enough on it, that’s all.”
Truck Bryant added 12 points, all in the second half, and freshman guard Gary Browne contributed 11 coming off the bench. Bryant made four of eight shots in the second half after missing all three of his shot attempts in the first half. He entered the game mired in a 20 for 74 shooting slump over his prior five games.
West Virginia had an impressive 41-20 advantage on the glass, which limited Syracuse’s transition opportunities.
“We came in with the idea that we wanted to throw it close and I think, for the most part, we did,” said Huggins. “Deniz (Kilicli) didn’t finish the way he normally finishes (two for 10 shooting from the floor). He’s usually a better finisher than that around the goal. We got kind of what we wanted, I thought.”
And while West Virginia was dropping its second in a row at Syracuse, Pitt was rediscovering itself against 10th-ranked Georgetown. The Panthers, now 13-9, 2-7, played one of their best games of the season on Saturday afternoon in routing the Hoyas 72-60 – the final score really not indicative of how thoroughly Pitt controlled the game.
The Panthers led the Hoyas by 11 at halftime and by as many as 16 late before Georgetown scored a couple of cheap baskets at the end.
Forwards Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson were terrific with Robinson making all nine of his field goal attempts to score a game-high 23 points and Patterson finishing with 18 points on six of eight shooting. Patterson and Robinson also played well in Pitt’s 86-74 victory over Providence on Wednesday night in helping the Panthers snap their seven-game Big East losing streak. The duo combined to score 23 points and grab 17 rebounds against the Friars.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has been pleased with the way Patterson has been playing of late.
“We’ve asked him to do a lot of things and maybe he has played a little too many minutes at some times, but I think he is filling into that role of understanding how valuable he is,” said Dixon. “He is the perfect indication of someone getting better at what we need them to do.”
Robinson, battling an ailing knee, has also been very productive, especially on Saturday against the Hoyas.
“A lot of good things came to him; it was layups, dump offs and penetration,” said Dixon of Robinson. “That’s how he needs to play and he has a knack for being in the right place as well. You can’t say enough good things about the kid. The guy has played through an injury this year and that’s just an indication of how tough he is.”
Another player who has fought his way through health problems is junior point guard Tray Woodall, who returned to the lineup against Louisville and scored 17 points in his second game back against Providence. Against Georgetown, Woodall only had 4 points, but he did hand out a game-high 10 assists.
“With Tray out there, it just allows guys to do more and be in a more comfortable role,” said Dixon.
West Virginia players certainly understand the value Woodall brings to the Panther lineup.
“They have Tray Woodall back,” said Jones. “He’s their point guard and with him their offense is going to run a little bit better and they might be able to score a little bit better.”
That was certainly the case against Georgetown, the Panthers shooting 52.1 percent for the game and beating the Hoyas 35-23 on the glass.
Bryant says Pitt is very similar to Marshall, a team the Mountaineers defeated in Charleston earlier this month.
“Pitt is going to do the same things,” Bryant explained. “They are going to guard the 3-point line and they are going to run a lot of sets.”
The senior guard expects another difficult battle in the Coliseum against the Panthers. He knows they are feeling a lot better about themselves and will be ready to play on Monday night.
“The Big East can be rough at times,” Bryant said. “That’s what the young guys are learning. We’ve got to be ready for Monday’s game. We’ve got one day to prepare and they run a lot of stuff, I already know that.”
Will there be lingering effects from Saturday’s tough loss against Syracuse? Huggins doesn’t think so.
“We’ll be fine,” he said.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN as part of its Big Monday lineup. As of early Sunday evening, there were still a limited number of tickets available and those can be purchased online at WVUGAME.com.
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