Another Chance

It was billed as a potential game of the year in college basketball in 2010 -- lofty praise, considering the game was played on New Year's Day. But the battle between then-No. 4 Purdue and then-No. 6 West Virginia never lived up to the hype, as the Boilermakers easily handed Bob Huggins and company their first defeat of the season. The Mountaineers have a shot at revenge on Sunday.

It won't be easy, as No. 8 Purdue has managed to overcome the loss of one of the nation's premier players, Robbie Hummel, to start the season 15-2. The Boilermakers certainly won't lack for motivation either, as they come into Morgantown fresh off a 70-67 loss to No. 25 Minnesota on Thursday night.

But that was the first time in more than a month that head coach Matt Painter's squad had even had a close game. After a 65-54 loss to Richmond on Nov. 27, Purdue reeled off 10-straight victories, and all but the first one (a 58-55 win over Virginia Tech in overtime) were decided by 13 or more points.

That included a 4-0 start to Big Ten Conference play, with blowout wins at Michigan (80-57), against Northwestern (82-69), at Penn State (83-68) and against Iowa (75-52).

Indeed, Huggins said this is still a Purdue squad that poses a significant threat because of the way Painter's teams play.

"I don't think they've changed that much," Huggins said. "Really, the names are going to change on the back of the shirts, but the reality is they guard -- and hopefully we're starting to guard. They rebound it -- and hopefully we're starting to rebound it. And those are the things that people who stay consistently at a high level are able to do. And they do it very well.

"They're always going to be the same as long as Matt's there. They're always going to guard, and they're always going to rebound."

That was how the Boilers manhandled WVU in a 77-62 decision at Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind., last season.

Center JaJuan Johnson had a field day against the Mountaineers, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Now a senior, he and senior guard E'Twaun Moore (who had 15 points last year against West Virginia) are back and leading the way for Purdue.

Johnson averages 19.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season, and Moore isn't far behind with his 17.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contest.

"He's played great," Huggins said of Johnson. "He's so long. His skill level has gotten so much better. You know, you have a 6-10 guy who's very, very effective on the block, can step out and make 3s, lay it on the floor. They'll clear out for him. He's got the whole package."

But if there's anything Johnson lacks, it's bulk. He's a relatively scrawny 221 pounds, and Huggins said that even though Johnson will probably create defensive issues for his big men (as he did a year ago), he hopes to force Johnson into some unfavorable defensive situations.

"We didn't run very much effectively a year ago," Huggins said. "We're going to have to do a better job of running offense. But he's got to guard us too. He's giving away 40 or 45 pounds, so hopefully we can do a good job of making him guard us on the other end as well."

The scoring ability of Johnson and Moore alone makes Purdue a tough team to guard. But what truly sets it apart is the ability of guard Lewis Jackson (6.2 points, 4.2 assists per game) to create opportunities for his teammates, according to WVU's fourth-year head coach.

"They ball screened last year, but they'll ball screen a whole lot more for him and try to get him in the lane where he can score or get somebody else a shot," Huggins said. "And they just, you know, between him and E'Twaun Moore and [Johnson], they've got three guys that play off the bounce really well and some other guys who make open shots. So they've got a good basketball team."

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • Sunday afternoon's game is the first sell-out of the WVU Coliseum this season -- something Huggins sees as "significant" (to use the word of the reporter who asked the question) for all the wrong reasons.

    "It's significant in the fact that it's just the first. I mean, we've been playing for a long time," Huggins said dryly. "You know, I get tired of saying it and I probably won't say it anymore, but if we're going to be somebody, that's the way we've got to be. We talk about wanting to be somebody and be a national power like we used to be. Well, it used to be that you couldn't get a ticket. You couldn't get a ticket to the old Field House. And it's got to get that way here if we're going to be somebody.

    "It helps recruiting immensely. It helps the exposure, certainly that we get and that the University gets. It helps everything. You can't find a negative in packing the house, other than maybe some people who want tickets can't get them. Other than that, there's not a negative.

    "[Purdue] was, last year, as good of a crowd as [I've seen] -- and I've been very fortunate to be in some places where it's been pretty crazy -- and I don't think they sat down the whole game. I know walking out, Da'Sean said to me -- and he's played more games than anybody in the history of this school -- that that's the best crowd he'd ever played in front of."

  • Despite the rather embarrassing nature of last year's Purdue loss, Huggins said no extra attention had been paid to this game beforehand -- especially as West Virginia had to focus on trying to claw back to three-straight Big East Conference wins after starting 0-2 in league play.

    And, unlike New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, who has seemingly made a living in the last two weeks by making everything about his team's playoff games "personal" Huggins said there is no extra motivation for himself based on last year's results.

    "I'm too old for that," he said. "I mean, you know, they played really well and we didn't play as well. We need to play a whole lot better. I mean, that's about what it comes down to."

  • Huggins, a man who clearly cares a lot about winning, said that regardless of the outcome, both teams will be winners in at least one way.

    "Both teams are going to be walking out with résumé-builders, because what they tell you to do is play a great non-conference schedule," the veteran head coach said. "Naturally, you've got to win some of those, but we're doing what they tell us to do.

    "I think if you look at our strength of schedule, that's why our RPI is so high. Our strength of schedule is pretty good, and this will do nothing but help our strength of schedule and RPI, regardless of what happens to either team. That's why Purdue wants to play us and that's why we want to play people like Purdue."


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