Duking It Out

While Wednesday night's opposition for the No. 6 WVU men's basketball team may lack some of the size that other Mountaineer foes will have this season, it makes up for that by spreading the floor and allowing one player to control the interior.

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said that this year's Duquesne squad is the best that he will have faced in his three years in Morgantown.

That is due largely to the efforts of Dukes coach Ron Everhart, who has taken the Atlantic 10 program from the abyss (a season with a mere three wins the year before his arrival) to a legitimate threat.

The Fairmont, W.Va., native has taken the school to impressive heights and will bring a solid squad -- one that squandered a lead and ultimately lost to cross-town rival Pittsburgh in double overtime -- to Morgantown on Wednesday night.

"What he's done has been remarkable, particularly with the situations he's had to encounter," said Huggins of Everhart.

That culminated in a strong season a year ago, when the Dukes fell just short in the A-10 title game, losing 69-64 to Temple and just missing out on the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

That did little to stem the momentum of Duquesne, as the team tallied an impressive non-conference victory at Iowa, 52-50, in only the second game of the regular season.

It stands at 6-2, with the aformentioned loss to the Big East Conference's Panthers (67-58 in double overtime), which came two games after an 83-77 loss at Western Carolina.

West Virginia will provide the toughest test of the young season for Everhart and the Dukes, but Huggins said the way that his team's opponent plays is different from what the Mountaineers have seen so far.

"They're not as big as some of those other teams," said the third-year WVU coach.

Instead, Duquesne uses 6-foot-7 forward Damian Saunders -- the team's tallest regular starter -- to control the inside. Everhart then opts for a smaller regular line-up, with no other player standing taller than 6-foot-5, to spread opposing defenses out.

"Saunders is a really good player," said Huggins. "He'll get 15 or 13 (averaging 15.1 points per game thus far this season). He leads them in steals (3.4 per game), leads them in blocked shots (3.0 per game)."

"He's really good and their inside presence (also leading the team in rebounding with 13.3 per game). The rest of those guys just spread you. They play a little bigger than what they are, but they don't have the size. Some of those people have that have given us problems -- particularly when we play a little bigger, because they spread you so much."

The success of Duquesne's "spread the floor" philosophy is predicated on the play of guard/forward Bill Clark, the team's leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. Fellow guard/forward B.J. Monteiro is the third and final Duke averaging double figures scoring, with 12.6 points per contest.

RIFLE REPORTS:

  • Starters Devin Ebanks and Casey Mitchell continue to be on the mend for Huggins and company.

    The head coach said Ebanks' hand is merely bruised from dunking in the team's win over Texas A&M game, but said the star forward is "fine."

    As for Mitchell, who sat out during WVU's exhibition win over Charleston (W.Va.) on Saturday night, Huggins said that the swelling in the junior college transfer's knee has subsided somewhat.

    That allowed the guard to practice yesterday -- the first time he has been able to do so since the team returned from Anaheim, Calif., after winning the 76 Classic. It remained unclear to the coach whether Mitchell would play on Wednesday night.

    "We'll see what he does today (in practice)," Huggins said.

  • With much of the focus of Mountaineer fans remaining on the announcement of the football team's berth in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl, Huggins even received a question about his relationship with former WVU football coach Bobby Bowden, who will be coaching his final game on the sidelines at Florida State in the Gator Bowl game.

    Huggins attended WVU at the same time as Bowden's famous sons Terry and Tommy, and said that the elder Bowden was a class act and a man who had an impact on his own coaching career.

    "I'll tell you what a good guy coach Bowden is," Huggins said. "When I was up for the Cincinnati job, coach Bowden picked up the phone and called the AD at Cincinnati on my behalf."

    "I never asked him to do it. He just picked up the phone and called Rick Taylor, who was the AD there, and recommended me for the job. I went in and Rick said, ‘Did you have Bobby Bowden call?' I said, ‘No.' He said, ‘Come on.'"

    "That's what kind of a man he is."


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