West Virginia to take on Connecticut in second round of the Big East tournament
Published: Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 01:03
The West Virginia men's basketball team will open in its final Big East Conference tournament at Madison Square Garden against Connecticut at noon today.
The Mountaineers earned a first-round bye and the No. 8 seed on the final day of the regular season, while No. 9-seeded Connecticut defeated DePaul 81-67, Tuesday in the first round to advance.
"You have mixed feelings about it," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. "Sometimes you get the jitters out the first game. But (the bye) helps you in the long run if you can beat UConn and Syracuse."
West Virginia received a first-round bye in last year's Big East tournament but fell to Marquette in the first game.
West Virginia senior forward Kevin Jones, who leads the team with 20 points and 11.2 rebounds per game, said he was surprised his team was able to get a first-round bye after losing seven of its last 11 games.
"That's just how the Big East is," Jones said. "You have to be prepared for whatever.
Huggins said he thought the Big East tournament is more difficult than the NCAA ournament.
"When you get into the NCAA tournament, it's a two-day tournament. This is harder," he said, "harder for us to win the Big East tournament than the first rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Huggins knows today's second-round matchup against the Huskies isn't going to be easy. The Mountaineers lost to Connecticut 64-57 on Jan. 9.
"I think everyone's said they were the most talented team in the conference," Huggins said. "They have terrific personnel."
Jones said West Virginia needs to take care of the ball better than it did in the last meeting against Connecticut.
"We're confident. We can beat them," Jones said.
Connecticut is led by Jeremy Lamb who is scoring 17.6 points per game, while Shabazz Napier is averaging 12.4 points per game. Both Andrew Drummond and Ryan Boatright are each scoring 10 per contest.
The Huskies did struggle against No. 16-seeded DePaul in Tuesday's first-round game.
DePaul kept within reach for much of the game. After trailing by as many as 21 in the second half, the Blue Demons pulled within 9 points before Connecticut took back control of the game.
Lamb finished with 25 points and four assists, while Boatright finished with 19 points and seven assists.
Jones said West Virginia prepared as if it was going to play Connecticut. The Mountaineers just played DePaul Feb. 28.
Jones also drew comparisons with the 2009 team that won the program's only Big East Conference championship.
"We were a tough-minded team. We came together at the right moments," Jones said. "That's what we have to do this year. The tough-minded teams win."
Behind Jones, senior guard Truck Bryant is second on the team in scoring at 17.3 points per game. Junior forward Deniz Kilicli is scoring 10.7 points and collecting five rebounds.
"We played against everybody," Bryant said. "I believe in my team. I know we can beat everyone."
Crowder wins Big East player of the year over jones
West Virginia senior Kevin Jones didn't win the Big East Confernece Player of the Year despite leading the conference with 20 points and 11.2 rebounds. Jones is the only player in the country averaging double-figure scoring and rebounds. Marquette's Jae Crowder won the honor.
"I think that 110 percent KJ deserves Player of the Year. It would be crazy (if he didn't win), but I wouldn't be surprised," Bryant said Monday afternoon before the award was announced.