Only three days away from his last game at the WVU Coliseum, Wellington Smith was simultaneously looking forward to the two home games he and his Mountaineer teammates will play between now and Monday and looking back on the last four years of his career.

The senior forward said Monday's game against Georgetown would be as much a beginning for him as it would be an end -- a milestone reached that would be a cause for happiness and sadness at the same time.

"It's just emotional," he said. "You hate that it's going to be the last time, but you love that you're going to get on with your life and move on to bigger and better things. But the love that you get from the people here -- from everybody here -- it's just not something you're going to get anywhere else."

Indeed, the devotion of Mountaineer fans was something a bit more on the minds of Smith and the rest of the players after head coach Bob Huggins made that topic a point of his post-game message after his team's loss to Connecticut on Monday night.

While the perception of the third-year WVU head coach is that he wastes little time in blasting players when they don't perform to expectations, his message was a different one after that 73-62 defeat. It was one of hurt, of disappointment -- not of anger.

"With him being disappointed in us, it makes us want to play harder," Smith said. "It makes us want to play for the state harder. He made a great point. We are the pride of the state."

"As an 18, 19, 20, 21, 22-year-old kid, you don't think about that too much -- that you're the pride of somebody's life, their whole existence. It kind of puts something in you. You want to play for everybody, not just for personal gains or a team. You want to play for the whole state -- people who care about you that you don't even know. It makes a big difference."

Smith has had four years to experience just what West Virginia's teams mean to the people of the Mountain State, but that might be a point that is slightly more difficult for younger players to understand.

But every experience in this last year has shown the senior from Summit, N.J., just how important he and his teammates are to those who call the Mountaineers their team.

"You play for so many people -- out in the woods, trying to connect antennas up to get the game on," Smith said. "You play for a lot of people -- elderly people who just want to have some satisfaction and something to call their own."

"A guy came up to me at the Louisville game and said he got his foot amputated the day before, and he came to a West Virginia basketball game [the next day]. That's kind of ridiculous -- not in a bad way, but like, ‘Wow, somebody really came out of their way to our game.' It's moving, really."

With all that in mind, Smith seemed resolute in the thought that he and his WVU teammates would not duplicate the poorer aspects of the squad's loss at UConn, starting with Saturday's contest against Cincinnati.

While, like Connecticut on Monday, the Bearcats could use a win over the Mountaineers as a resume-builder for a potential NCAA Tournament berth (as they are currently planted squarely "on the bubble"), the senior forward said West Virginia would also be hungry to show that its struggles against the Huskies were an anomaly and that the squad is preparing itself for a strong March.

"That's true," said Smith, when asked what it would be like to face another team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life. "But we're probably not the same team as when we played UConn."

"We're going to be all up in them defensive-wise. We're going to do so many things better than we did the UConn game. We're going to look for open players. We're going to run our offense. We're going to do all the things we didn't do against UConn."

For Smith, that means the unenviable task of trying to put a stop on UC forward Yancy Gates, who comes off the bench to play 24.8 minutes per game and contributes 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Smith compared the Bearcats' sophomore to Syracuse star Arinze Onuaku.

"They're just huge -- at least the guys I have to play," Smith said. "They do their job well. Gates is a huge guy that knows how to score."

"Onuaku is a huge guy, but they probably don't go to him as much as they probably should or want to or need to. But they're still getting things done at Syracuse. Cincinnati just goes to Yancy Gates all the time. It's going to be hard for us to stop him with our size, but we did a good job yesterday in practice. We'll get another day of practice in and just hopefully clean up some things."

And for the third time in the last month, Smith and the rest of the West Virginia players will have to bounce back quickly regardless of the outcome against Cincinnati. After all, the Senior Day game for both Smith and Da'Sean Butler looms on Monday against a nationally-ranked Georgetown club.

For one last time, Smith will run down the gold and blue carpet for player introductions. And, more than ever, he understands that he will be playing for more than just himself and more than just his teammates. It's a message he hopes the younger Mountaineers will come to appreciate sooner rather than later.

"They may not understand it right now, but they will," Smith said. "As time goes on, they will understand it. Especially if they get to where me and Da'Sean are, they'll definitely understand the pride and fulfillment people get out of watching you play. It really means a lot."

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