240 Minutes

West Virginia assistant Billy Hahn has forged a new mantra.

The coach is preaching 240 minutes, the length of six games – the same number a team must win to capture an NCAA title. The Mountaineers, 40 minutes in after a 75-65 victory over Arizona in the opening round, have 200 left, starting with a second round match-up with second-seeded Duke on Saturday.

"It puts it into perspective that it's not that much time," Nichols said. "When you look at it like that, there's not much left. Coach Hahn knows, having won a national championship. I have done a lot of things for more than 240 minutes."

Nichols has spent more than five times that many minutes on the floor this season alone. In his career, the point guard has appeared in 139 games, eight of those in the NCAA. He will tie the school record with nine against Duke, a mark held by Jerry West and Willie Akers. That's a contrast to fellow senior Jamie Smalligan, who had never played in any NCAA contests until Thursday.

"I think it puts in perspective how it's not winning 20 games to win a national championship," Smalligan said. "It's six games back-to-back. Every game you play is another level to step up. It's that and playing four minutes at a time, trying to win all those mini-games."

With Nichols and Smalligan, the 240 minutes represent not only a national title, but at best the most minutes remaining in their collegiate careers. The duo are the lone seniors on this year's team, though Ted Talkington, an academic upperclassman, will not return fro his final year of athletic eligibility.

"I never really thought of that," Smalligan said. "It's great. I am loving every minute of it. For me, it doesn't feel like 240 minutes. It feels a lot longer, especially in close games. We are not ready for our season to end, or our careers to end for me and Darris."

The rest of the team has embraced the slogan, further slicing it into even smaller aspects of the game. West Virginia's goal is simple: win a hustle match-up or beat a foe off a screen. Transfer that into an entire possession. Pile those on top of one another to make a minute, then four minutes, then string them together to link media possessions. That becomes a half, which becomes a game, which develops into winning streaks. The Mountaineers have already accomplished the feat for one season-best winning streak of eight and two smaller, though more prestigious, streaks of four.

That's not always enough for Huggins. Joe Mazzulla said the coach has routinely entered the locker room, both at halftime and at the end, and been unhappy with the way West Virginia has played. It won games, often times defeating teams by 20-plus points. But it lost individual or teams battles, lost possessions, lost an aspect of the contest Huggins felt it should have been won. The 240 minutes is about more than winning, though that's what Huggins values as much as anything. It's about a commitment to being the best at every facet.

"When you break it down like that, everything seems a lot shorter," Mazzulla said. "We're breaking games down to 10 four-minute periods. If we win every one of those periods, there is no reason we won't win. Coach Huggins always says ‘Why can't we win the national championship?' That's always his attitude."

A winning one, for sure.


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