MORGANTOWN—It has been sometime since a West Virginia Men’s basketball team looked sharper overall than the Mountaineers did in Sunday night’s 78-68 upset of defending National Champion Connecticut.
In the impressive process, they captured the Puerto Rico Tipoff championship before a crowd of 8,002 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This triumph gave WVU a 5-0 start to what could be an excellent season for Coach Bob Huggins’ young team. It also earned No. 21 national ranking for the first time.
Making it even more impressive is that West Virginia jumped out to a 2-0 lead to start and never trailed from start to finish. How often do you see that in a game, much less against the caliber of the No. 17-ranked Huskies (3-1)?
It has been a long time since I can remember West Virginia being so dominant over a nationally ranked team. I would think UCONN was clearly the favorite going into this revival of old foes.
What impressed this TV viewer of Sunday’s skirmish was the pressure defense WVU applied effectively all evening. It resulted in 19 turnovers which obviously were a major factor in the contest’s one-sided outcome.
No one should be surprised that senior Juwan Staten was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He scored a game-high 21 points. He made 6 of 14 shots and 9 of 12 free throws.
Jonathan Holton chipped in 12 points, five rebounds and three assists playing only 20 minutes. He also had three of his team’s 12 steals.
In thoroughly dominating the Huskies, WVU shot 45.9 percent (28 of 61) from the field and 69.6 percent on its free throws (16 of 23).
Staten, the Big 12 Conference Preseason Player of the Year, was the leader of the Mountaineers’ post game celebration just as he did on the court in 37 minutes of action.
He said, “This win feels good. We have a brand new team, a lot of new faces.
“We feel like we have a special team, and this was our first big test. To knock off UConn is a great feeling.”
I can’t imagine that anyone could disagree with Staten in what he told the media following this classy conquest. It’s certainly worthy of recognition, but also something in which to build for the tough challenges still ahead of West Virginia.
Winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title isn’t anything new for Bob Huggins, who did this at Cincinnati before coming to WVU.
He was quoted as saying he couldn’t be more proud of his team’s toughness against the Huskies.
“I’ve got my kind of guys again,” the veteran mentor declared. “I’ve got guys who are just going to keep swinging.” But he also noted that his players still are a little too chaotic with the way they employ pressure.
“I don’t know if we know what we’re doing,” Huggins said. “We’re going to have to take a really good hard look at it and try to figure it out. It’s very random right now.”
“We have to get it to where we have a little more consistency to what we’re doing.”
He cautioned his players if they don’t perform well and lay an egg against VMI on Wednesday night at Charleston, beating UConn wouldn’t mean much. It’s the first victory over a Top 25 ranked non-conference team since January of 2011 against Purdue.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie lamented, “The first half wasn’t a good half for us. They challenged every dribble, every pass. They did a really good job of pressuring us.
“We had some bad turnovers.”
WVU experienced a cold spell as the second half opened, allowing the Huskies to narrow the gap to 50-44.
But ironically, Puerto Rico native Gary Browne came to the rescue with a couple of timely goals and WVU regained a double-digit command.