MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia will face Gonzaga in an NCAA tournament second round game in Pittsburgh on Thursday at the Consol Energy Center.
The 10th-seeded Mountaineers (19-13) are making their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance under Coach Bob Huggins, the seventh in the last eight years and the 25th overall in program history.
“I don’t know any more than anyone else does but when all those guys (experts) have you a 10, you’re probably a 10,” said Huggins. “We were pretty much a consensus 10. Nobody ever talked about us being on the bubble, and when you watch the (ESPN bottom line) they always had us a lock. I thought with the South Florida win we were in.”
West Virginia will be facing a seventh-seeded Gonzaga team that posted a 25-6 record and lost to St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament championship game last Monday night.
The Zags, coached by Mark Few, are also NCAA tournament regulars having secured their 14th consecutive bid this year – the fourth most among current schools behind just Kansas, Duke and Michigan State.
“I’ve known Fewy for many years and we’ve played them a couple of times when I was at Cincinnati, but I don’t know a lot about them right now,” said Huggins. “I will here in a while.”
This year the Bulldogs have spent a good portion of the season ranked in the Top 25. Few has a balanced scoring team led by 6-foot-1 guard Kevin Pangos’ 13.8 points per game. Elias Harris, a 6-foot-7 forward, is averaging 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest, 7-foot center Robert Sacre shows averages of 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds while Gary Bell Jr., a 6-foot-1 guard, is averaging 10 points per game.
Sacre was the West Coast Conference defensive player of the year while Pangos was named the league’s newcomer of the year.
Gonzaga ranks 30th in the nation in field goal percentage shooting 47.3 percent, 44th in scoring offense averaging 74 points per game and 44th in rebounding grabbing 37.1 boards per contest.
West Virginia, meanwhile, is ranked 23rd in rebounding (38.4 rpg.), 49th in assists (14.6 apg.) and 86th in scoring offense (71.6 ppg.)
The Mountaineers are coming off a 71-67 overtime loss to Connecticut in the second round of the Big East tournament last Wednesday afternoon. West Virginia shot just 34.7 percent for the game, including 0 for 11 in overtime, after surrendering a double digit second-half lead to the Huskies. It was the seventh time this season the Mountaineers were unable to hold on to a second half lead, and it was the ninth time they failed to make at least 40 percent of their field goal attempts.
Senior forward Kevin Jones scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against UConn and is averaging 20.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
Jones produced his 21st double-double and 19th 20-point game of the season last Wednesday and now sits in sixth place on WVU’s career scoring list with 1,809 points. He is also fourth in career rebounding with 1,044 boards.
Senior Truck Bryant added 20 against the Huskies and heads into NCAA tournament play with an average of 17.2 points per game. Bryant moved up to 14th place in career scoring with 1,581 points.
Junior forward Deniz Kilicli is the other Mountaineer player averaging double figures at 10.7 points per game; however, he scored just six points in West Virginia’s loss to Connecticut for his fifth straight game failing to reach double figures.
West Virginia will be playing very close to its campus this Thursday with Consol Energy Center just 75 miles from Morgantown.
“We need all the help we can get,” said Huggins. “Hopefully (fans) are on the phone right now trying to get tickets because we’re only going to get our allotment. I know when we went to D.C. (in 2008) they did.”
The Gonzaga-West Virginia winner will face the Ohio State-Loyola, Md., winner on Saturday. The Buckeyes are the No. 2-seeded team in the region.
“You’re going to get a good team,” said Huggins. “The only advantage of being a one or a two (seed) is the first-round game is generally not quite as hard, and even if you are a one-seed you’re going to get somebody pretty good.”
A tip time for Thursday’s game will be announced later this evening.