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WVU men face stiff test at vaunted Allen Fieldhouse

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It is a citadel of sports, certainly of college basketball, the old arena in Lawrence that has served as home to the University of Kansas basketball teams since it was built back in 1955.

One might say it is the Yankee Stadium of college basketball, the Boston Gardens of the sport. It has history, this place where West Virginia will play at 2 p.m. Saturday, a game and a place brought to you by CBS.

Kansas loses there about once every millennium.

We can put perspective on that by offering up coach Bill Self's record on his home court as evidence ... 261 wins and 14 losses.

A question about the mystique of Allen Fieldhouse, named after Hall of Fame coach Phog Allen, was put to WVU men's coach Bob Huggins on Friday morning before his team left for Kansas.

"I don't think Allen Fieldhouse has ever beat us," Huggins said.

Maybe not, but the record there is 0-9, and WVU, as Huggins would say, has had its chances.

Tom Keegan knows something about the mystique of Allen Fieldhouse. Keegan has had adventurous career as a sportswriter, his travels taking him to New York, Los Angeles, Boston and to Lawrence, Kansas, where he spent a number of years as the sports editor of the local paper there.

He's currently working in Indiana, between Chicago and South Bench. He knows that it isn't Allen Fieldhouse that wins games.

A lot of people point to the talent Kansas has, and certainly that's a big part of it. A lot of people point to the students that come out to root their Jayhawks on, and that, too, is part of it.

Keegan isn't sure that's it's just the players that Self puts on the floor or the students.

"I don't think it's the students. I think maybe it's that the adults act like the students. When you're a student, you really, really care about this. It ruins your day if your team loses," Keegan said.

"But's that how it is with the adults there. It means as much to the adults as it does to the students. It's corny to say, but it really is like a religion in Lawrence and Johnson County, which is Kansas City, too."

Keegan gives an example of what he means about that, and it involves one of the games WVU played at Kansas where the Mountaineers took a huge lead into the locker room at halftime.

"For a couple of years there, WVU would get these big halftime leads there and end up losing," he began. "One time, this guy who happened to be a neighbor of Bill Self's came up to me at halftime saying, 'You better rip the coach for this ... blah, blah, blah, blah.'"

Keegan let him go for a while, then responded.

"I was so shocked I said, 'Last time I checked, the final score doesn't come up until after the second half. There's still 20 minutes of basketball left.' This guy wasn't having any of it. He was furious ... and, of course, Kansas came back and won."

Huggins understands Keegan's assessment.

"I think what sets the building apart is 17,000 people ... and it's 17,000 people no matter who they play," Huggins said. "It's an older, unique building. You don't get to play in places like that very often. There's just not a whole lot of buildings like it, preserved like Allen Fieldhouse is."

"The building does a good job of trapping noise, maybe because it's old. It just feeds on itself. They get on a rally and it gets super loud," Keegan said.

As old as the building is and as good as Kansas has been over the years, Self uses the history to push his team forward. The history includes three national championships under Allen and one to go with two Final Fours under Self, who also strung together 14 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships.

"He talks history to his players. It keeps them humble. Like he says, 'No matter who plays here, now or in the future, they are not going to be best player who ever played here because Wilt Chamberlain played here."

Of course, Huggins could use the same line and insert Jerry West for Chamberlain and, interestingly enough, it took Chamberlain joining the Los Angeles Lakers to get West his only NBA championship ring.

"Then he'll say, 'No matter who coaches here, they're not going to be the best coach here because Phog Allen coached here and he was the greatest.' Well, I disagree with him on that because I think Self is the greatest, but they'll believe Self is the greatest.

"But he does draw on history to try and keep them humble and make them feel they have a lot of responsibility here."

The funny thing is Huggins doesn't believe all that history affects his own players at all.

"I don't think they have a clue who Phog Allen is," he said. "I think the only thing they know about Allen Fieldhouse is what they see on TV, what the commentators have to say about it .... even if that, and I'm not sure they are even paying attention to that."

The game is crucial to both teams, but WVU is pushing for national recognition and is at a point in the season where the schedule has become brutal. Following Kansas is No. 1 Baylor in Morgantown, then a trip to Texas Tech, which has wins over both Baylor and Kansas, then Oklahoma at home.

WVU is coming off its best game of the year, beating Oklahoma State, 70-60, with Jalen Bridges scoring 22 points and with guard Keedy Johnson and forward Gabe Osabuhien having huge defensive efforts.