WVU Understands Importance of Purdue Game

With just two games left in its non-conference schedule and no wins against teams from major conferences, nobody has to tell this West Virginia team what Sunday's home game against Purdue could mean heading into Big 12 Conference play.

"We need this win," said sophomore guard Terry Henderson. "We need this one bad."

The Boilermakers enter the game with a 9-3 record and will return to the Coliseum after a 27-point victory against West Virginia last season in Mackey Arena.

And this year is a much-improved group in comparison to the Purdue squad that had the first losing season since head coach Matt Painter's first year at the helm during the 2005-06 season.

"They're a good team, they're very well coached," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. "They have historically been one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten.

"They've got a lot of guys back from a year ago, and I know he really likes his freshmen."

The Mountaineers are expecting Sunday's showdown to be another in a line of recent close games. Four of WVU's last five games have been decided by 10 points or less, with the Mountaineers only coming away with a victory just once in last Saturday's 74-64 win against Marshall in the Capital Classic.

Those three close losses were games that could have West Virginia looking pretty good had a few things gone the Mountaineers way. Losses against Wisconsin on a neutral court, Missouri on the road and a home loss to Gonzaga in which the Mountaineers led most of the time, have WVU looking at the Boilermakers in a different light leading up to Sunday's showdown.

"It's a must-win," said freshman forward Nathan Adrian. "We've lost a couple games we should not have, so we need to win games like this and get on a little run going into conference play."

Remembering that they need to play with that consistent effort for 40 minutes could help this WVU team come away with wins in some of those close games, something that's going to be extremely important for them to do in the next few weeks when Big 12 play begins. This young team is beginning to figure that out.

And Huggins can see this group getting better and better as each day flies by.

"Those guys have come in every day and have tried to get better," he said. "When you come in with some enthusiasm and you come in with the idea that you want to be there and you really want to work, you're going to get better."

Now that they're improving, are battle tested and have finally been able to experience what it's like to pull out a win in a close game, they're seeing Sunday as a chance to continue that momentum.

"We've had a lot of close games this year that we haven't been able to come away with, and we need to start figuring out how to close those games out because those will be crucial," said junior point guard Juwan Staten.

"We give up easy buckets late in games, buckets that we don't give up. We need to stay true to what we're doing and execute for 40 minutes."

The one lesson that the players who were around last season for West Virginia's 13-19 campaign have tried to get across to the younger players on this year's team is that you never look past any team and never take any game for granted.

"When the season is over, it's over," said junior guard Gary Browne. "Then it's just a year you can't get back. What the young guys need to realize is that we play a tough schedule and we're going to be like that.

"They just need to realize how hard it is and that every game counts."

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