WVU must take care of business at home
MORGANTOWN - He leads the Big East Conference in scoring and rebounding, and Kevin Jones may also lead his West Virginia basketball team in perceptiveness.
"We need to take care of home," Jones said after WVU's 55-51 loss to Notre Dame on Wednesday night. "And we didn't do that."
Simply stated, but not simply done, and now 24th-ranked Louisville (19-5, 7-4) brings a five-game winning streak into a soldout WVU Coliseum at noon Saturday (ESPN telecast).
Where it once seemed the Mountaineers had a postseason margin for error as long as the 6-foot-8 Jones' inseam, that has evaporated. WVU couldn't win a game in which it had its fewest turnovers in almost six decades.
Coach Bob Huggins' team (16-9, 6-6) has six regular-season games to play - three home, three road - before heading to New York for its final Big East Conference Tournament. The Mountaineers have lost four of their last five, and know they're bouncing toward that NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Mountaineers, 1-4 against AP-ranked teams this season, have slipped to 33rd in the RPI (entering Thursday night games), but still have an excellent strength of schedule ranking at No. 5.
However, a win over the Cardinals would be especially helpful because WVU is only 3-6 in games against RPI top 50 teams.
Louisville has a 24 RPI, with an 83 in strength of schedule, and is 5-4 against top 50 clubs.
It's pretty apparent if Huggins' can't coax good games from all three of his three upperclassmen - Jones, guard Truck Bryant and post man Deniz Kilicli - the Mountaineers struggle mightily.
Still, 25 games into the season, the WVU freshmen still play like freshmen - inconsistent in performance and focus, some producing little game-after game.
After Louisville's visit, WVU goes to Pitt and Notre Dame - two teams that have come into the Coliseum and whipped the Mountaineers. They get No. 18 Marquette and DePaul at home before finishing the regular season in Tampa against surprising South Florida (14-10, 7-4), which is two games ahead of WVU in the Big East loss column.
"You've got to win home games," Jones said. "It's tough (in the big East). Teams beat one another up so much you've got no choice but to fight through the wear-and-tear of it, but we've got another important game coming up in Louisville, and we've just got to move forward."
Huggins said it would help greatly if his team made some shots. Against the patient and smart Fighting Irish (16-8, 8-3), WVU won the rebounding battle as usual and committed only three turnovers - the fewest since having only three 59 seasons ago in a February 1953 loss at Pitt's Fitzgerald Field House.
Yet, a scoreless game by Bryant, plus 24-percent first-half marksmanship and a late-game 11-0 run doomed West Virginia. Besides starting guard Jabarie Hinds' team-high 17 points, Huggins' rookies contributed little.
Echoing a Huggins' sentiment and explaining that premise, Kilicli said, "Sometimes, they still don't know the play."
The WVU coach didn't substitute in the second half until he inserted walk-on Paul Williamson with 42 seconds left. Huggins said he didn't know where to turn for help, considering the ongoing pattern of repeated errors by the first-year men.
"We've got to be more focused," Hinds said. "We've got to be more focused about everything, spend extra time going to film (sessions), get extra shots up (in personal workout time), do the stuff nobody thinks we can do."
Louisville, in a three-way Big East tie for fifth place with USF and Cincinnati, rolled past Connecticut 80-59 on Monday. Coach Rick Pitino is 10-6 against Huggins in a rivalry rooted in Conference USA days for U of L and Cincinnati.
Pitino was 1-0 at Kentucky versus Huggins at UC; at Louisville, Pitino was 5-4 against Huggins' Bearcats and is 4-2 against the Mountaineers.
"They're good, great players, Rick's a great coach, very talented and they've got a whole bunch of 'em," Huggins said of the Cardinals. "He's got two walk-ons that are pretty good now. Kyle Kuric's pretty good ... and Rick plays a bunch of guys.
"They're making shots. They're doing a better job, and he can coach. They're doing a better job of covering in a 2-3. They're playing a lot of 2-3. I think they probably haven't got a spread now; they'll still press you but it's not for 40 (minutes) like it was sometimes."
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WEST VIRGINIA shares a 2011-12 distinction with two other teams entering play Saturday.
None of the 344 NCAA Division I teams has played more overtime games this season than the Mountaineers, with five (Kansas State, Missouri State, Baylor, Cincinnati, Providence).
The other two teams to play extra time in five games are Rhode Island and Old Dominion. WVU is 4-1 in those games (losing to No. 6 Baylor in Las Vegas), while ODU is 3-2 and Atlantic 10 basement-dweller Rhode Island is 2-3.
Nine teams have played four overtime games. No Big East team besides West Virginia has played more than two OT games.
The five overtime games ties the WVU school record, shared by the clubs from 1974-75 (2-3), 1979-80 (2-3), 1980-81 (1-4) and 1982-83 (4-1).
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949.