NCAA Tournament Preview
PITTSBURGH – Limiting Kevin Jones’ touches is one of Gonzaga’s primary objectives when the Bulldogs face West Virginia in an NCAA tournament second round game Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
And for good reason: Jones was one of only three players in Big East Conference history to lead the league in scoring and rebounding for the season. Jones brings averages of 20.1 points and 11.1 rebounds into Thursday night’s game.
“I think he’s a great player,” said Gonzaga’s 7-foot center Robert Sacre of Jones. “We’ve got to make sure he doesn’t get easy baskets.”
“You have to pay attention to detail because this kid’s just got a nose for the ball,” added Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “He really has a great understanding of what shots are getting ready to go up. He sets up shop in there and he does a great job of finding the ball.”
“K.J. is not going to force anything,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “He’s not going to take bad shots and he kind of lets the game come to him. Really, when you look at it a lot of what he’s done is off the offensive glass.”
Jones has easily been West Virginia’s most consistent performer – and one of the most consistent performers in the country, producing 21 doubles-doubles in points and rebounds and scoring 20 or more points in a game 19 times this season. Most recently against Connecticut in the Big East tournament, Jones went for 25 points and 10 boards.
Few said Sacre is the guy Gonzaga will use to try and neutralize Jones.
“I think Rob is one of our best – best I’ve ever had – of inside guys with attention to detail defensively,” Few said.
Sacre said he is anxious to hook up with West Virginia because of the physical nature the Mountaineers are known for. He says West Coast Conference basketball is a completely different style than Big East basketball.
“I think just in the Big East, you look at the Big East teams, they’re very physical, very strong inside,” he said. “It’s much of a power game so we’re excited to see that.”
“That suits Rob,” said Few of a possible physical game on Thursday night. “I think Rob, throughout his five years or 25 years, however long he’s been at Gonzaga, he’s had some rough stretches. Sometimes the games are officiated a little bit differently from West Coast to East Coast. A physical guy like that loves to be able to hit and grind and rumble a little bit.”
Few says this year’s West Virginia team shares many of the same qualities Bob Huggins’ teams were known for in the past.
“They’re tough; first thing that comes to mind is just how tough they are and how physical they are – I mean unbelievable physical,” Few said. “And they all rebound the ball well. This team rebounds the ball unbelievably well, especially the offensive end.”
Few and Huggins have hooked up twice previously, once in 1999 and four years later in 2003. Huggins won the 1999 game in Cleveland and lost to Gonzaga in 2003 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Few and Huggins have maintained a friendship ever since.
“All I can tell you is he’s a great guy,” said Few of Huggins. “He’s a guy’s guy. He’s always treated me great. Being one of the big-time coaches in college basketball way back when – my first year as head coach, we play his Cincinnati team that I thought would have won the national championship that year if Kenyon Martin wouldn’t have broke his leg.
“I think (Huggins) is one of the real characters left in college basketball that just isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind,” Few added. “He’s the same way on the court, of the court, in front of you guys. I think that’s a real neat quality to have. I think when it’s all said and done he’s got Hall of Fame credentials.”
“He’s a fun guy,” said Huggins of Few. “He’s a great guy to be around. He’s done a great job of recruiting guys that are skilled. They defend. Defensively they keep you off balance. He’ll change it to keep you off balance so you don’t get into a rhythm against them.
“I think more than that, he’s a good friend. He’s a guy that is fun to hang out with.”
Few admitted that it’s not ideal playing against a coach he likes and admires, but he will put that aside when the ball goes up in the air Thursday night.
“It’s about your team, about your program advancing this time of year,” he said. “You don’t want it to end. They’re in the way of us moving on. I think we’re both competitors and we both know that. Win, lose or draw, we were friends before this; we’ll be friends after that. I think we both understand that.”
Thursday’s contest will be the fourth time in 15 NCAA appearances that Gonzaga has traveled more than 2,000 miles to play an NCAA tournament game. Meanwhile, West Virginia traveled just 75 miles by bus from Morgantown.
“We’re just going to treat this as an away game,” said Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos. “We’re not sure what the fans will be like but that’s not our biggest concern. We’re more worried about our approach to the game, how we handle the other team and our own strategy. The fans, no matter how noisy they are, we’re just trying to focus on what we can control.”
Tipoff is set for 7:20 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on TNT.
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