MORGANTOWN. W.Va. – Two nights ago, West Virginia faced a Notre Dame team coming into the Coliseum riding high on a winning streak. Now the Mountaineers will face another one on Saturday when 24th-ranked Louisville arrives for a noon game to be televised nationally on ESPN.
Louisville won its 19th game of the season on Monday night in impressive fashion against Connecticut by running, dunking and shooting its way to an 80-56 win over the defending national champions.
“They’re good, but they’re always good,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
Senior guard Chris Smith scored 16, sophomore center Gorgui Dieng added 15, and forward Kyle Kuric scored 10 as 10 different Cardinal players got in the scoring column against the Huskies.
“Kuric is probably as good a pure shooter as there is in the league and Gorgui has really gotten a lot better. They play very good zone (defense),” said Huggins.
Kuric leads a well-balanced Louisville team by averaging 13 points per game, and he is one of the better 3-point shooters in the Big East, knocking down 45 3s this year and shooting better than 40 percent from behind the arc for his career.
Dieng and Smith are averaging 10.4 points per game each, while 6-foot-6, 250-pound freshman forward Chane Behanan is coming on strong with averages of 9.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Behanan scored 23 in a recent win over Rutgers and also had 19 at Pitt on Jan. 21.
Peyton Siva, a 6-foot junior, is Louisville fifth starter and he shows averages of 8.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
“He’s as good as anybody in the Big East with the ball in his hands,” said Huggins. “You try to hard-hedge him and you don’t do a good job and he splits it. He’s terrific in the open floor obviously. I think what he does for them the best is he uses ball screens. He knows how to play.”
The Cardinals (19-5, 7-4) are averaging 9.5 steals per game to rank second in the Big East and sixth nationally. Louisville is also defending the 3 well, ranking fourth in the country by allowing its opponents to shoot just 36.9 percent from behind the arc. Seven of the Cardinals’ last 11 opponents have failed to shoot 40 percent, including UConn’s 35.1 3-point shooting percentage on Monday.
“They’re not playing as much full-court, pick-you-up, but I think that’s the advantage of being able to play that zone,” said Huggins. “They’re able to get guys out in transition like Syracuse does.”
West Virginia (16-9, 6-6) is in the midst of its toughest stretch of the season. The Mountaineers dropped a 55-51 decision to Notre Dame Wednesday night at the Coliseum and has lost four of their last five. The last four games have all been decided by six points or less, including West Virginia’s lone win, a come-from-behind 87-84 overtime win at Providence last Sunday.
Senior forward Kevin Jones had his nine game streak of scoring at least 20 points snapped against Notre Dame (14 points), but he did produce his 17th double-double of the season with 12 boards.
Jones continues to lead the Mountaineers with averages of 20.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and is now 21 points and 31 rebounds shy of joining Jerry West as just the second player in school history with 1,700 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. Jones is presently fifth on the all-time school rebounding list and is 10th in career scoring.
Freshman guard Jabarie Hinds is coming off a team-high 17 points against Notre Dame to boost his season scoring average to 8.3 points per game.
Junior forward Deniz Kilicli has scored 38 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his last two games against Providence and Notre Dame and now shows averages of 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Senior guard Truck Bryant failed to score against Notre Dame, but still ranks second on the team in scoring with an average of 16.9 points per game.
Hinds, Kilicli, Jones and Gary Browne were the only players to score for West Virginia during Wednesday night’s loss to Notre Dame.
“We’ve got to win,” said Huggins. “We’re in good shape in terms of all of our numbers and all we need to do is win some games.”
West Virginia’s last three games against Louisville have come down to the final possession, the Mountaineers winning by two in the Coliseum and falling by one at KFC Yum! Center last year, and West Virginia hanging on for a three-point win in Morgantown in 2010.
Saturday’s game will tip off at noon and will be televised nationally on ESPN. There are no tickets available.