WVU hosts No. 20 Gonzaga
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia and Gonzaga have met in each of the last two seasons, at the end of one and the beginning of the next. The games were not even competitive, the Zags winning both in runaways.
When they meet tonight for the third straight season, are the Mountaineers in a better position to change that?
"Probably,'' Bob Huggins said Monday.
Naturally, the venue should help. At the end of the 2011-12 season, the teams met in Pittsburgh in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga won 77-54 at Consol Energy Center. A few months later, WVU opened the 2012-13 season in Spokane, Wash., and the Zags won 84-50 on their home floor.
Tonight they play at the Coliseum. The 9 p.m. game will be televised by ESPN2.
When Huggins looks at the team he will send onto the floor tonight against the No. 20 Zags (8-1), he sees one that he hopes is better equipped to handle whatever Gonzaga throws at it. In each of the first two games between the teams, WVU was so one-dimensional that when the Zags took away what the Mountaineers did best, there were no other real options.
"What they did to us in Pittsburgh was they did a great job of taking the things that we really relied on with [Kevin Jones], they did a great job of taking that away,'' Huggins said. "And then when other guys don't make shots, it makes it awfully hard.
"I think we have more people that can make shots now than what we've had.''
Indeed, in that NCAA tournament game two seasons ago, Gonzaga limited Jones to 13 points and four rebounds, and in trying to compensate West Virginia was 3 of 17 on 3-pointers and shot just 32 percent overall.
A year later on the West Coast, West Virginia was even worse shooting the ball, missing all but three of its 26 3-pointers and making just 27 percent of all its shots.
This is a far different team, though. None of WVU's five starters from that NCAA game are still on the roster and only one player who started a year ago in Spokane, Juwan Staten, is starting now. Gary Browne is the only current Mountaineer who played in the game in Pittsburgh and the players who were on the roster last year and remain this season combined for just 12 points in last year's game.
No, this season West Virginia is shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and is among the Big 12 leaders in 3-point shooting.
Shooting alone, though, won't get it done against Gonzaga, a deep, talented and experienced team. The Zags are actually playing the same backcourt this year that they played when meeting WVU in each of the last two seasons - Gary Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and David Stockton. Add to that the presence of 6-foot-9 senior forward Sam Dower Jr. and massive 7-1, 296-pound sophomore center Przernek Karnowski and the Zags can play to just about any style.
Again, though, what could help West Virginia - aside from better shooting - is the venue. The Mountaineers haven't drawn well to home games this season yet, but Huggins hopes the presence of a Top 25 opponent will help change that.
"When our students are into it, this is a great place,'' Huggins said of the Coliseum. "When you don't have that, I think you lose a little.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.