West Virginia opens season vs. No. 21 Gonzaga
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 12, 2012 09:11
When the West Virginia men’s basketball team walked off of the floor of the CONSOL Energy Center last March, it was a feeling head coach Bob Huggins didn’t like very much.
The Mountaineers had just suffered a 77-54 loss at the hands of Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament. It was the first time they fell in the opening round of the tournament since the 2009 tournament when WVU lost to Dayton.
"I don’t handle losing very well," Huggins said. "It was embarrassing."
West Virginia will get the opportunity to avenge that loss Monday night when it travels to No. 21 Gonzaga to open up the regular season.
It’s a game that’s been on the minds of everyone on the team since the schedule was released. And it’s something even the new players who weren’t in Morgantown know means a lot to everyone returning.
"It’s definitely something we’re not happy about still," said senior forward Matt Humphrey, who transferred to WVU from Boston College during the summer. "Coach Huggs plays that game every day, so we hear about it. We have to go out there ready to play."
But it won’t be an easy test for the Mountaineers Monday night. On top of traveling 2,314 miles west to Spokane, Wash., for the game, they will also be taking on a well-coached and experienced Gonzaga team.
The Bulldogs return four of their five starters from last year’s team that lost in the Round of 32.
Gonzaga won its opening game, beating Southern Utah 103-65 Friday. It is led by three-time Wooden Award nominee Elias Harris.
The senior forward scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first game of the season. The Bulldogs also have a talented stable of guards who can make a big impact.
Sophomore guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. will return to the lineup for a second-straight season. In last year’s tournament game, the duo combined for 27 points and six assists against West Virginia.
But with senior Robert Sacre leaving for the NBA a year ago, the Bulldogs have been searching for a go-to option in the frontcourt. They might have found that option in 7-foot freshman Przemek Karnowski.
The Polish product came to Gonzaga as a highly touted international recruit and stands at 7-feet, 305 pounds. Karnowski scored 22 points and had three rebounds off of the bench in the Bulldogs’ opener.
"He’s got good feet," said Gonzaga head coach Mark Few. "He’s getting there. It’s going to be a week-by-week process."
Coming off of an exhibition victory against Glenville State in which it struggled at times, West Virginia knows it has plenty to work on to compete against a talented Gonzaga team.
"I’ve got some guys that, if they can’t play harder than what they did today, I don’t need them to play," Huggins said. "We went through supposedly trying to grow up, but if they haven’t grown up by now, they’re not going to grow up.
"There’s a lot of stuff to do."
But no matter what happened last year, Few and the Bulldogs know they’ll need to be ready for a tough test against the Mountaineers.
"This is a top-25 team – an NCAA tournament team and they really upgraded themselves with transfers, and it’s not the same team we faced in Pittsburgh seven or eight months ago," Few said. "We’re going to have to prepare for that, we’re going to have to rebound the ball better than we’ve been doing and just toughen up.
"If there’s one thing that Huggs’ teams are, it’s tough and nasty and a great reflection of him, and I’m sure they’re going to come in raring to go."