West Virginia arrived here in Kansas City Tuesday afternoon, getting in a full 48 hours before tip-off against the winner of seventh-seeded Texas Tech and 10-seed Texas. The Mountaineers landed at 1:30 central time at the Charles B. Wheeler downtown airport before practicing at Rockhurst University (the same site they have utilized the last several years), using the Hawks' Mason-Halpin Field House for the closed session prior to Wednesday's open drills inside the Sprint Center.
While the Mountaineers worked for 90-plus minutes in private, both Texas and Texas Tech held their open sessions. The teams were allotted 40 minutes on Tuesday, and used every bit. The Longhorns went through a series of fast break and two- and three-man offensive sets, concentrating on screens, passing and ball movement. But like much of the regular season, UT struggled to hit even unguarded shots for the majority of the session. The lone exception is potential one-and-done NBA pick Jarrett Allen. The 6-11, 235-pounder showcased his range, routinely hitting multiple threes and outside jumpers in a row, and using his explosion and length to attack the rim.
Texas Tech, meanwhile, honed in on fundamentals during their session and put a prime focus on basic execution and shoring the foundation of play prior to their Wednesday game with the in-state rival. Nine-seed Oklahoma, meanwhile, chose not to drill inside the Sprint Center at all, instead opting to also hold their lone practice at Rockhurst. That was in contrast to previous years, when the Sooners were highly ranked and chose to showcase themselves for media. Instead, OU and WVU nearly crossed paths at Rockhurst as the team buses were lined up next to each other, the practice times set back-to-back.
TCU was the last team out for the Sprint Center showing, taking the floor at 6 p.m. By then, the Mountaineers were back at their hotel, the Kansas City Marriott Downtown, which also served as the media hotel and thus the headquarters for BlueGoldNews.com. Players ate dinner and were rarely seen around the lobby, holding meetings into the evening hours to set up another practice session at Rockhurst on Wednesday before the 3 p.m. drills at the Sprint Center. As an aside, it was great to see assistant coach Ron Everhart back on the road with the team. It was Everhart's first road trip since he underwent back surgery Jan. 6, and he figures to remain with the team though the Big 12 Championship and NCAA Tournament.
Wed, March 8
West Virginia held a midday practice at Rockhurst before heading to the Sprint Center for their allotted 3-3:40 p.m. central session. As per typical of head coach Bob Huggins, the open practice was little more than a series of shooting and screen/pass drills, the Mountaineers having accomplished the bulk of their work behind closed doors. Guards worked close out drills, pass-and-screen, cuts to the bucket and more, as seen here in our coverage, while the bigs did much of the same, with some low block and interior work, as well as a focus on finishing around the rim. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the practice was the last 10 seconds, when the coaches called out "game-winning shot!" Players scrambled to grab loose balls or balls off the rack and drive for the winning score or hit a typical spot-up or deep three. Some even took half court heaves, with one bouncing just off the back iron.
Foul shots also took a front seat over the final 10 minutes, where players stayed at the line until the hit a pair. It was a nice exercise after the prior 30 minutes, and at least somewhat mimicked the physical game conditions of the individual, if not the collective of the situation, pressure, arena, etc. West Virginia then broke the session with a chant of "Big 12 champs!"
WVU was the lone team to choose to conduct player and coach interviews prior to the open practice session, rather than afterward. That worked effectively, as the media session was conducted efficiently between the arrival from Rockhurst at 2 p.m. and the 3 p.m. practice. Huggins was comfortable, opening the session by joking that he was disappointed there were no media there, a reference to what head women's coach Mike Carey said after his team captured the Big 12 championship in Oklahoma City on Monday night without much local press coverage. Huggins detailed a portion of WVU's prep here, noting that the Mountaineers spent the majority of time working on themselves, while also delving into aspects of both Texas and Texas Tech as well.
The Longhorns are housed in a locker room just down the hall from West Virginia, and head coach Shaka Smart had to pass the WVU media in accessing his team's area. Inadvertently, BlueGoldNews publisher Kevin Kinder lightly caught the coach with an extended elbow, both offering a quick "sorry, excuse me" to each other. Despite a difficult season, and the lowest seeding in the tournament, Smart remains among the genuinely nice head coaches in a conference with many. His attention to Huggins after his defibrillator delivered a shock during the last series meeting in Morgantown, and this exchange, are just a couple among many.
WVU exited the Sprint Center at little after 4 p.m., heading to shower, change and eat dinner before they will return to the arena to watch UT and Tech, which tips at 8 p.m. central. The 8 vs 9 match-up between TCU and Oklahoma tipped at 6 p.m. central. For updates to this story and more, check back here at BlueGoldNews.com as West Virginia's opener in the 2017 Big 12 Championship nears.