SCOUTING THE HUSKIES
West Virginia faces its stiffest road test of the Big East season when it travels to Connecticut for a noon game on Saturday against Jim Calhoun's Huskies. After a rare rebuilding year in the Nutmeg State, Calhoun again has his team in contention not only in the Big East, but potentially poised for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Some of the great UConn teams of the past 20 years have featured the total package on offense, and this year is certainly no different. For these Huskies, it all starts in the backcourt with the exploits of junior point guard A.J. Price. As a prep star, Price was one of the nation's most coveted floor generals before ultimately signing with UConn. His first few years in Storrs were met with adversity in the form of illness and legal troubles, but Price looks to have overcome the struggles, and is now enjoying a spectacular season for the Huskies. Price has led the Huskies in scoring a team-high 11 times, and is second on the squad with an average of 14.7 points per game. Though Price can score both off the bounce and from the perimeter, perhaps he is most dangerous when getting teammates involved. Price shows an average of 6.2 assists per game.
When Price opts to dish the rock, the beneficiary is often someone in the post. Specifically, junior power forward Jeff Adrien has put together an all-Big East campaign from wire to wire. The 6'7", 243-pound Adrien is a double-doubles machine, already having registered 31 in 60 career games including 15 in 28 games this season. The Brookline, Mass. native averages team-bests of 14.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and was named the conference's Player of the Week for the week of February 11.
Of course Adrien's ability to inflict harm on the inside could at least partially be due to the continued emergence of sophomore center Hasheem Thabeet. The Big East's resident Tanzanian, Thabeet just might be the most intriguing player in the country if for no other reason than his seemingly insurmountable size and potential. Unlike fellow conference giant Roy Hibbert of Georgetown, Thabeet has developed a nasty streak to go along with his scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking ability. Though still relatively young to the game of basketball and unquestionably raw in terms of athleticism and ability, Thabeet has had his fair share of big moments during the 2007-08 campaign. Tops on that list would be a monster 24-point, 15-rebound performance to go along with seven blocks in a home win over Georgia Tech in mid-February.
Price, Adrien and Thabeet gather many of the headlines for UConn, but others such as guard Craig Austrie, forward Stanley Robinson and Doug Wiggins fill their roles beautifully for the Huskies, yet another reason why Calhoun will once again be competing in the NCAA Tournament. Austrie is the consummate "glue guy" who can do a little bit of everything and seems to always be in the right place at the right time when he's on the floor. Too, the Huskies are a near-perfect 10-1 with Austrie in the starting lineup.
A win at Connecticut would certainly put the Mountaineers in fantastic position to earn an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, even with games against Pitt and St. John's remaining in the regular season.
|Sat March 1
WVU 20-8, 9-6
UConn 22-6, 11-4
UConn leads 11-3
|Sirius Channel: 123|
WVU - 36
UConn - 14
For starters, West Virginia must find a way to keep Adrien and Thabeet off the glass, particularly with offensive rebounds and putbacks. This certainly isn't the first time during the season that the Mountaineers are considerably smaller than their opponents. In fact, it's virtually happens every time out. However, the Huskies have more size than any team in the conference, with the 7'3" Thabeet being enough of a challenge to contain without the added efforts from leading scorer/rebounder Adrien. If Thabeet and Adrien are able to have their way on the boards, it could be a long afternoon for West Virginia.
WVU must also find a way to get points off of turnovers, from its bench, and even in transition in order to up the chances of a big-time upset. The more easy baskets the Mountaineers can get, the better.
WVU: Cam Thoroughman (Ankle) Probable
UConn: None Reported
West Virginia has not played at Connecticut since the 2003-04 season, dropping a lopsided 88-58 decision to the eventual national champions in early February of that season. UConn's lineup that afternoon included four current NBA players, led by center Emeka Okafor's 24 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.
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Is there a first-time for everything? Mountaineer fans hope so on Saturday. West Virginia has never won at UConn, sporting an 0-6 record all-time, which includes an 0-5 mark in Storrs and a lone loss in Hartford back in 1997.
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Between them, head coaches Bob Huggins and Jim Calhoun have amassed an astounding 1,382 wins. Calhoun is 11-2 all-time against the Mountaineers, including last season's loss in Morgantown. Huggins dropped his only meeting with the Huskies, which came during the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
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Saturday's game will be the final contest of the season for UConn inside the XL Center in Hartford. Formerly known as the Hartford Civic Center, the XL Center has hosted eight previous UConn games this season. The Huskies currently show a record of 7-1 in those games, with a head-scratching loss to Providence back in January being the lone blemish.