Huggins Hopeful

West Virginia will tip off its Big East home schedule with Tuesday night's Top 25 showdown against Connecticut.

To this point, West Virginia has passed just about every test it has faced through the first month and a half of the college basketball season. Save for hiccups against probable NCAA tournament teams Kentucky and Davidson, the Mountaineers have been flawless.

Tuesday night, however, they'll face their biggest test yet when No. 5 Connecticut invades the Coliseum for the first marquee home game of the Big East slate.

For the Mountaineers to pull off the upset, they'll have to consistently execute in a number of areas. Of course with Bob Huggins in charge, it always starts on the defensive end of the floor. Tuesday night will be no different.

"We've got to guard them," Huggins said. "You know, I think we've got to start with stopping their penetration. If we don't stop their penetration, then they're going to rebound it on us. So, we've got to try to stop their penetration as much as we possibly can."

Doing so, though, is much easier said than done. The Huskies boast a backcourt that includes senior point guard A.J. Price, who has been a thorn in the side of West Virginia in the past. Freshman guard Kemba Walker might be the fastest player from baseline to baseline in the Big East.

Then there's the steady veteran duo of Craig Austrie and Jerome Dyson. The latter leads the Huskies in scoring at 14.5 points per game. Neither garners as many headlines as Price or Walker, but routinely do whatever it takes to get the ‘W' for head coach Jim Calhoun.

"I think Austrie is really good," noted Huggins. "He doesn't make mistakes. He makes open shots. He's got that real good mid-range game. Dyson is their best defender and is really explosive. If you let them run up and down in transition, they're really good."

The biggest worry for Huggins comes on offense as UConn just might be the best defensive team in the Big East. On the perimeter, Dyson, Austrie, Price and Walker are all capable of disrupting WVU's offensive sets. Down low, 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet protects the goal as well as any player in college basketball. The junior is averaging 3.8 blocked shots per game, good enough for third in the country.

Last season, WVU was able to throw the ball into the mid-post to first-team all-Big East forward Joe Alexander, who posted a pair of career games against the Huskies. He has since moved on to the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.

"My biggest concern is how do we score? Joe had, what, 32 and 34 a year ago? They had a hard time matching with him," Huggins recalled. "Early in Hartford we had a hard time scoring. We've got to have some patience. We've got to attack them in areas where we think they're vulnerable. I haven't found very many to be honest with you."

Aside from their undeniable talent on both offense and defense, the Huskies also have a leg up in experience. Other than Walker, head coach Jim Calhoun doesn't play many if any young players. Thus, there is very little that West Virginia or any other team can throw at them that the veteran UConn lineup hasn't already seen at some point over the past few years.

"They're playing upperclassmen," Huggins said. "They're playing people who have been through this league and understand the rigors of the league and understand how hard it is to play in this league on a day-to-day basis. I think that's a tremendous advantage for them."

In a conference that has been crowned by many as the best in the history of college basketball, there will surely be many other opportunities for landmark wins for the Mountaineers after Tuesday night. As such, it's hard to really think of Tuesday night's matchup as a must-win for West Virginia.

Still, it can't be understated how big of a win this would be if WVU can find a way to pull it off.

"We just have to do what we do," Huggins concluded. "We can't make wholesale changes. I think the beauty of what we do is that we can change some things offensively to try to maybe take advantage of an area where we maybe think we can take advantage of."

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