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West Virginia coach Bob Huggins looking forward to facing No. 1 Gonzaga, sort of

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 1, 2020

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins speaks with forward Derek Culver during a game last December in Morgantown, W.Va.  (Kathleen Batten/Associated Press)
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins speaks with forward Derek Culver during a game last December in Morgantown, W.Va. (Kathleen Batten/Associated Press)

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins offered a Gonzaga scouting report that was simultaneously spot-on and amusing.

The veteran coach was asked on a Zoom call what he’s looking forward to about facing No. 1 Gonzaga – a game he helped set up by calling ESPN after Tennessee pulled out of the Jimmy V Classic – and responded with a question of his own.

“Who said I was looking forward to it?” Huggins began. “They’re good, man, and they’re very, very skilled. That’s been a trait of Gonzaga basketball for a lot of years. They pass it extremely well, they shoot it extremely well. They shoot it as well as anybody we’ve played in a long time.”

Gonzaga and No. 11 West Virginia collide Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, followed by No. 2 Baylor and No. 5 Illinois in the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader. The Zags and Baylor tangle Saturday at the same venue.

Gonzaga opened the season by handling Kansas 102-90 and Auburn 90-67 in Fort Myers, Florida. West Virginia won the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic with wins over South Dakota State (79-71), VCU (78-66) and Western Kentucky (70-64) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Huggins was watching ESPN when he noticed on the ticker at the bottom of the screen that Tennessee had paused basketball activities due to COVID-19 concerns. He called longtime friends at ESPN and the game was tentatively agreed upon within 10 minutes.

Why did he feel the need to add Gonzaga to WVU’s schedule?

“I don’t know, have you ever been in South Dakota in a bubble?” Huggins said. “Well, you get bored. I thought, ‘What the heck, let’s go play Gonzaga.’ ”

It’s an interesting matchup with the experienced, defensive-minded Mountaineers featuring a frontcourt of Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe against a GU offense that was full throttle in its first two games.

The 6-foot-10, 255-pound Culver was MVP of the Crossover Classic after averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two assists. Guard Miles ‘Deuce” McBride made the all-tournament team by averaging 16.3 points and 3.3 assists.

Tshiebwe, a 6-9, 260-pounder who was second-team All-Big 12 last year when he averaged 11.2 points and 9.3 boards, had a slow start with 23 points in the three wins.

Gonzaga’s Drew Timme and Corey Kispert combined to score 101 points in the first two games. Freshman point guard Jalen Suggs averaged 18 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals.

West Virginia has led the nation in offensive rebounds the past three seasons. The Mountaineers were 15th in scoring defense (62.4 points) last season and 37th in turnovers forced (15.6).

“We haven’t played very well,” Huggins said. “We haven’t guarded, not even a little bit, compared to what basically this same group did at the end of (last) year. Baylor came in here No. 1 in the country and we guarded the heck of out of them. Our defense has to get a lot better.”

WVU’s offense hasn’t thrilled Huggins.

“We miss so many open guys, and I’m not just talking open cutters, I’m talking about guys standing wide open maybe in the corner or on the wing,” he said. “Our floor vision has to improve. But I think to pass it, first of all you have to want to pass it. We need to get to there, too.”

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