Mountaineers hope to end offensive struggles vs. No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday
Published: Thursday, February 17, 2011
Updated: Thursday, February 17, 2011 20:02
It seems so long ago when the West Virginia men's basketball team was sitting in a second-place tie in the Big East Conference and looking like a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament.
In reality, it was just a short two weeks ago.
After losing three of their last four games, the Mountaineers have toppled to the bottom-half of the Big East, currently sitting in ninth place.
Saturday's meeting with No. 8 Notre Dame at the WVU Coliseum could tell a lot about the Mountaineers and their hopes of making it to the NCAA Tournament.
"We need to win some games," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "(Notre Dame) is a little scary ... (Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey has) done a great, great job with them. I think they're a little bit similar to what we were a year ago, probably even bigger than we were a year ago."
A win would give WVU another quality home win. But, a loss would drop the team even further down in the Big East standings.
And, with no sure win left on the schedule, the Mountaineers don't want to lose their fourth game in five outings.
"In this league, you have to understand you're going to lose some, but it's how you respond," Brey said. "Everyone in this league has gone through some tough stuff, but the ones that bounce back from that are the ones that get the NCAA Tournament bids. The ones that don't, can't."
It will be easier said than done against the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will televised nationally by CBS.
Notre Dame has won its last seven games, including victories over No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 16 Louisville. The Irish are the lone Big East team to take down the Panthers this season – and they did so at the Petersen Events Center.
"They really score the ball," Huggins said.
The Mountaineers have had success against Notre Dame outside of South Bend, Ind. In fact, WVU has won the last four meetings with the Irish at the Coliseum or a neutral site. West Virginia defeated Notre Dame 53-51 in the Big East Tournament last season.
In that game, guard Ben Hansbrough went off for 17 points in a losing effort. He has been a more consistent No. 1 option for Notre Dame this season. He leads the squad with 17.3 points per game. Four other starters are averaging more than nine points per game.
Brey considers the environment in the WVU Coliseum to be among the top three in the Big East. He expects a tough crowd on Saturday.
It could be even harder with more than 75 former WVU players, coaches and staff at the game who are taking part in a reunion.
"They whip it up, and they'll be ready for us," Brey said. "I have a feeling they'll be game-ready at whatever time we play. It's a big game for them, and they're a heck of a team."
A loss by WVU would drop the team to 1-4 over its last five games. It would be the first time since 2006 that has happened during a stretch in the regular season.
The Mountaineers will need to be more consistent if they want to upset the Irish Saturday. They have struggled in the second half of nearly every conference contest this season, particularly on the offensive end.
"I think we've played OK. We just haven't shot the ball very well," Huggins said. "We depend on the guys that helped score the ball last year to do so, and they're struggling right now. Hopefully, it's about time they snap out of it and start making some shots."