On The Road Again In Indiana

After resolving to not duplicate its performance from its New Year's Day loss at Purdue, the WVU men's basketball team is headed to Indiana for the second time in the last nine days -- this time to play Big East Conference foe Notre Dame.

The Irish (13-3, 2-1) are led by senior Luke Harangody, one of the country's premier players for the last three seasons.

The forward has not disappointed fans under the Golden Dome so far in 2009-10, averaging 25.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest.

While West Virginia will work to make sure Harangody can't serve as a one-man Mountaineer wrecking crew, Bob Huggins said his squad will need to focus on making sure the players around him don't have big games.

"Harangody is going to score. He shoots it enough that he's going to score," said the third-year WVU head coach.

"They've always surrounded him with guys that can make shots. I think it was more that their guys make shots when they had the guys they had before. They had great range and they kept you spread. So double-teaming him really wasn't the way to guard them. It might have been the way to guard him, but I don't think it was the way to guard Notre Dame."

But the 6-foot-8, 246 pound forward no longer has sharpshooters like departed Irish star Kyle McAlarney to fall back on when he gets surrounded in the post.

Fellow forward Tim Abromaitis is Notre Dame's second-leading scorer at 15.3 points per game. Senior guard Ben Hansbrough adds an additional 12.2 points per contest.

Without the same threat of the 3-pointer, Irish coach Mike Brey has had to use Harangody in different and more creative ways to generate offense.

"He plays more off the bounce," Huggins said. "They'll iso him in the high post, where he was pretty much a low post player his first year. He's really increased his shooting range. He was 5-for-6 (from 3-point range) in the South Florida game (a 74-73 Notre Dame win on Jan. 5) or something like that."

Luke Harangody
"He's become a lot more versatile. At the end of last year, I think he showed his ability to pass the ball. I thought when they kind of got it turned around and went on their winning streak, he probably scored less but assisted more."

Still, Harangody is a massive threat to put points on the board, coming off a season-best 36 point performance in the aforementioned win over the Bulls.

He will test a West Virginia defense that had perhaps its best outing of the season for much of Wednesday night's 86-52 dismantling of Rutgers at the Coliseum.

For his part, the head coach is not sure if his team is where it needs to be on that end of the floor.

"We took them out of things," Huggins said of the key to the Mountaineers' defensive performance in that game. "I'm still not convinced we do the job we need to do helping. I don't think we're as good as what we were a year ago away from the ball."

With that in mind, the keys to victory likely won't change for a WVU team that has earned many of its 12 victories by being more tenacious rebounders.

"If we score over 70 points, we generally win," said Huggins, whose Mountaineer teams are 50-4 when reaching that benchmark. "We've got to score. We can't throw the ball away. We've got to take care of the ball and we've got to get good shots."

"We've got to do what we've been good at doing. We haven't shot the ball all that well, but we've been really good at rebounding."

The head coach said earlier this week that he didn't feel the large crowd Purdue had for their game had any impact, saying no fans grabbed a rebound, blocked a shot or scored a point.

West Virginia teams of recent vintage may feel as though crowds at Notre Dame's Joyce Center may have done some of those things. The Mountaineers have lost their last nine games in South Bend. Their last victory at the Joyce Center came nearly 14 years ago -- a 69-59 win on Jan. 27, 1996.

While basketball fans in the Hoosier State are known for their passion and the Irish have had plenty of luck on their side at home against WVU, Huggins said their advantage is no bigger than any other that a home team enjoys. <> "I think everybody plays better at home," said the fourth-winningest active coach in major college basketball.

"You have the same routine. You have confidence. That's where you shoot every day, so I think everybody has more confidence playing at home. But I don't know. I've never felt like crowd noise had a lot to do with anything."

But even Huggins admitted there is a different feeling in the air when his teams travel to Indiana, a place where there is a special love for the game of basketball.

"Oh yeah, they're great," he said. "The fans are great. They support their teams as well as probably anywhere."

Still, the Irish will likely have to do more than win Saturday's game to mimic Huggins' most nightmarish trip to South Bend.

As a WVU graduate assistant, the current head coach traveled with the team for a game at Notre Dame in Jan. 1978. Not only did then-coach Joedy Gardner's team sustain a 103-82 loss, but the Mountaineers were stuck in Indiana for three days because of heavy snow.

"That was bad, wasn't it?" said Huggins, dryly, as long-time reporter Mickey Furfari recalled the trip.

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