West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is one of the true characters in college basketball, not to mention a quality schedule-maker in a pinch.
Huggins was preparing for the Mountaineers’ season opener vs. South Dakota State last Wednesday when something on ESPN caught his eye.
“It came across the ticker that Tennessee couldn’t play (Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic) because of COVID-19 and so I thought, ‘What the heck, let’s call ESPN,’ ” Huggins told reporters last week. “So I called some guys that I’ve known for a long, long time and said, ‘Hey man, can you work this out, get us in the Jimmy V and play Gonzaga?’ “
Within 10 minutes, ESPN called back and told Huggins, ‘We got it done, you’re in.’ “
Just that quickly No. 11 West Virginia and No. 1 Gonzaga were lined up for Wednesday’s clash at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Mountaineers were originally scheduled to entertain Youngstown State on Wednesday but the game was postponed on Nov. 19 when the Penguins paused basketball activities in response to COVID-19 concerns.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Huggins, an entertaining storyteller with 812 career wins, eighth all-time in Division I, became friends through their teams’ head-to-head meetings, coaching clinics and trips, and Final Fours.
Few is 4-0 against Huggins’ West Virginia teams, including a 61-58 nailbiter in the 2017 Sweet 16 in San Jose that helped propel the Zags to their first Final Four. GU also won 77-54 in the 2012 NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh, 84-50 in Spokane in Nov., 2012, and 80-76 in Dec., 2013 in Morgantown.
“The ‘Hugs’ you see is the same ‘Hugs’ I see when it’s just me and him,” Few said prior to the 2017 matchup.
Huggins relayed a story of inviting Few to join his TV show to talk fishing at the 2012 Final Four after their teams had failed to reach college basketball’s biggest stage.
“He was walking through the park like somebody killed his dog so I was just trying to cheer him up, you know,” Huggins said. “Tried to help him. He was very happy at the end because he … put some digs in against me on my own show.”
Few joked that Huggins “theoretically, supposedly likes to fish. I’ve never seen it or seen any pictures or anything, but he talks about it. (He) kind of does other things, sitting in the boat.”
Few lost to Huggins-coached Cincinnati 75-69 in his first season as Gonzaga’s head coach in 1999-2000. The Zags beat the Bearcats 74-69 in the 2003 NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City. Huggins and team radio announcer Chuck Machock were ejected early in the second half for arguing a call.
“(Few is) actually fun to be with,” Huggins cracked at the 2017 NCAA Tournament press conference. “He doesn’t look like that, but he’s actually a lot of fun to be with.”
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