Hugginsí Mountaineers prepare to face Xavier
PHOENIX ó The West Virginia Mountaineers are far different than most of Bob Hugginsí teams, except in one way.
Huggins inherited a team of sharpshooters recruited by John Beilein, who stressed an intricate offense, and transformed it into a squad that plays man-to-man defense and scraps for rebounds.
No one will confuse these Mountaineers with Hugginsí big, bad Cincinnati Bearcats. But West Virginia (26-10) has reached the NCAA tournamentís round of 16, where the seventh-seeded Mountaineers will face third-seeded Xavier (29-6) in the West Region tonight.
iHeís completely flipped everything around, with rebounding, defense, intensity and goal-wise,î forward Joe Alexander said after the Mountaineers practiced at U.S. Airways Center on Wednesday. iThe goals changed when he came, from day one. They went from making the NCAA tournament to winning the NCAA tournament.î
The 54-year-old Huggins returned to his alma mater after Beilein, who went 104-60 in five seasons in Morgantown, bolted for Michigan last year.
The players knew little about Huggins, a 1977 graduate of West Virginia, aside from the glowering figure they had seen stalking the sidelines on television.
Huggins has shown his players a softer side since arriving. But he also brought a commitment to defense that has paid off in the first two rounds of the tournament, when West Virginia limited 10th-seeded Arizona to 65 points and second-seeded Duke to 67.
iI think the defensive end took a lot of getting used to,î backup point guard Joe Mazzulla said. iLast year, we did two hours of offense and 10 minutes of defense (in practice). This year, we do two hours of defense and half-hour of offense.î
From the start, Huggins and his staff pushed the players into the weight room. He also brought a treadmill to practice, and players who mess up are asked to go for a spin.
iWhen I first heard that he was going to get one in the gym, I was like, íMan, thatís not going to happen,îí backup forward Wellington Smith said. iWhen I first saw it, I was like, íMan, Iím going to be on there a lot.í Iíve been on there a lot.î
iNot box out,î Smith said. iLet a guy go middle. Just being, maybe, soft.î
Huggins was forced out in 2005, but he wasnít finished. He spent one season at Kansas State before taking the job at West Virginia. Huggins is 616-221 in 26 college seasons.
Reinventing himself as a coach wasnít a big deal for a man who had survived a heart attack in the fall of 2002.
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