Remember Gonzaga’s 77-54 NCAA tournament victory over West Virginia last March?
Well, forget it, because neither of those teams will be on the floor tonight at 9 when the Bulldogs entertain the Mountaineers, the first of 11 games in 24 hours on ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon.
“They’ve really upgraded themselves with transfers,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’s not the same team we faced in Pittsburgh.”
West Virginia junior center Aaric Murray led La Salle in scoring (15.2), rebounding (7.7) and blocks (2.3) in 2011. Sophomore guard Juwan Staten had 190 assists at Dayton as a freshman to lead the Atlantic 10 Conference. Senior guard Matt Humphrey averaged 10.3 points for Boston College.
West Virginia returns three starters, including senior forward Deniz Kilicli (10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds) and sophomore guard Jabarie Hinds (10.7 points and 3.3 assists).
The Mountaineers exited the Big East after 17 seasons for the Big 12 Conference. They’re picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll. WVU, which received six votes in the Associated Press preseason poll, has qualified for the NCAA tournament five straight years and seven of the last eight.
Gonzaga bolted in front 27-10 and shot 56 percent – its third highest percentage in 32 NCAA games – in last season’s victory over West Virginia. Gary Bell Jr. and the graduated Robert Sacre each had 14 points. Kevin Pangos added 13 points and Elias Harris 10.
While many of the names have changed, the Bulldogs have a pretty good idea what to expect from West Virginia.
“We have to rebound the ball better, probably, than we’ve been doing, and just toughen up,” Few said. “If there’s one thing (WVU coach Bob Huggins’) teams are, they’re tough and nasty and a great reflection of him. … They’re going to be up into you and they’re definitely going to battle you on the glass.”
The Mountaineers probably won’t arrive in a good mood.
“They were hitting us hard (last March) and we were hitting them hard,” Harris said. “On defense, they didn’t give us anything easy and we didn’t give them anything easy. They’re going to have a bad taste in their mouth. We were the team that kicked them out of the NCAA tournament. You don’t forget things like that.”
Gonzaga (1-0) thumped Southern Utah 103-65 in its opener Friday. Freshman center Przemek Karnowski’s 22 points led six players in double figures. West Virginia defeated Glenville State 95-53 in an exhibition game Tuesday. Kilicli scored 19 points, Staten added 16 and Murray had 13 points and nine rebounds.
“All three (transfers) practiced with them last year,” Few said. “These are talented guys. I think they’ll probably be able to score it a lot easier than they did last year.”