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WVU basketball: Change of attire might have helped Mountaineers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins wore a suit Sunday for a second straight game, which is not only unusual for him in that it deviates from the standard pullover-and-slacks, but because the Mountaineers lost Thursday to Pitt.

Typically, Huggins goes with a look for as long as wins allow. Yet there he was in the Rutgers Athletic Center with the suit.

And then without it.

Huggins took a 25-22 lead into the locker room and emerged in the black pullover.

"I wasn't real comfortable," he said.

WVU shot 52.5 percent in the second half, outrebounded Rutgers, 23-9, and snapped a three-game road losing streak with a 65-54 win.

"I feel better like this," he said. "I'm not a business man, you know. I'm a basketball coach. I don't know who started wearing suits. I don't know why they started wearing them. We don't do it any other time."

Huggins has sported the black pullover - and sometimes a gray one - for two seasons now, but admitted he went back to the suit to "change the karma" among other motivations.

"Keep you guessing, give you something to write about," he said.

The road win was Huggins' 18th in Big East play, against 18 losses. Former Mountaineer Coach Gale Catlett won 17 road games in the conference in 60 attempts from 1995-2002.

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HUGGINS CHANGED looks later in the second half, as well. Joe Mazzulla made two free throws to put WVU ahead 55-52 with 2:29 to go and the Mountaineers went into a 1-3-1 zone. At the top was 6-foot-5 Dalton Pepper. Cam Thoroughman was in the middle with Kevin Jones and John Flowers on the wings and Mazzulla on the baseline.

"We did it to run the clock," Huggins said.

That, and everything else the Mountaineers intended to do with the zone, didn't work, but the Scarlet Knights came up empty in three possessions against the scheme.

Rutgers needed all of 17 seconds to diagnose the zone and set up James Beatty, a career 38.4 percent 3-point shooter, for an open look.

He missed and Flowers answered with a jumper after West Virginia secured the rebound.

On the next possession, Rutgers used 21 seconds and Jonathan Mitchell, the team's leading scorer and best 3-point shooter (40.6 percent) this season, missed another open 3.

"It just throws teams off and messes up their whole mindset," Thoroughman said. "It takes teams out of their rhythm, as much as anything else. They still got two good looks, but they're not ready and those aren't the shots they get in their offense."

The 1-3-1 will give up jumpers and the zone is intended to keep the ball out of the paint, but Rutgers got the ball inside and Dane Miller missed a layup and center Gilvydas Biruta missed the resulting tip-in attempt. Beatty got the rebound and missed a 3, but Biruta grabbed that rebound and went to the basket, only to charge into Thoroughman for the offensive foul and a key turnover.

"I knew he was coming," Thoroughman said. "I was waiting for him."

Rutgers fouled Flowers and he made the two free throws and the Mountaineers went back to man-to-man defense. In 1 minute, 36 seconds, WVU outscored Rutgers 5-0 and watched the Scarlet Knights miss five shots.

The Mountaineers hadn't played the 1-3-1 in so long that they couldn't even remember the last time they did.

"It was just a 1-3-1 and I don't think we played it that well," Flowers said. "They still got open looks. We got lucky they missed the shots."

*  *  *

CASEY MITCHELL played just 13 minutes off the bench, but he finished 3-for-8 from the floor and 2-for-7 from 3-point range for eight points. He also committed four of his team's 12 turnovers.

Mitchell was 2-for-5 from 3-point range on two possessions in the second half. He missed one and made one on the first possession and then missed two before making one on the following possession.

"I ain't missing three," he said. "I was so mad I missed the second one. The first one felt good, too, but I thought the second one was in. I just took a deep breath on the third one and said, 'No way I can miss this.'"

Thoroughman was in agreement. He turned down a layup at the rim and passed it back to Mitchell for the 3.

"He's not missing three," Thoroughman said.

*  *  *

THE WIN gave WVU a 9-7 record in Big East play.

"Ten wins assures you of getting into the NCAA Tournament," Huggins said. "You can talk about anything else you want to talk about, but if you win 10 games in this league you're in.''

His Mountaineers had six wins at the time with seven games to go. They have nine now with home games remaining Wednesday against No. 14 Connecticut and Saturday against No. 16 Louisville.

WVU (18-10, 9-7) can get to 20 regular-season wins, but more important than that for the NCAA's selection committee are the numbers for RPI (No. 20) and strength of schedule (No. 3) entering Sunday's games.

Still, the Mountaineers may find themselves without a bye in the Big East Tournament. The top four teams get two-round byes and the next four get a one-round bye.

"It's going to go down to that last game," Thoroughman said. "It's crazy for anyone to predict what's going to happen, especially with the way the Big East has gone so far this season."

Nevertheless, Sunday's results put the Mountaineers in a five-way tie for seventh place in the conference. There's a slight chance of a top-four finish, but two wins should get WVU in the top eight.

"We definitely don't want to play that first day," Thoroughman said.

"We want to get that first-round bye. UConn (21-7, 9-7) is in the same pack with us, Louisville (22-7, 11-5) is a little bit ahead of us, but it wouldn't hurt to win two more games. That should assure us of a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament."

*  *  *

THERE WERE reunions between the Mountaineers and the Scarlet Knights at the RAC. Jones played in high school with Mitchell and Coburn. They led Mt. Vernon (N.Y.) to the 2006 New York State PHSAA Championship.

WVU guard Truck Bryant played AAU basketball for the New York Gauchos with Rutgers' Kadeem Jack. Jack, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward, chose Rutgers over WVU, Miami and Arkansas.

He went to a prep school first and enrolled at Rutgers in December, but is redshirting this season. He's part of the 2011 class that is ranked top five nationally.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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