West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has been kind enough to schedule games against former colleagues.
But the contest he scheduled for Saturday with his former assistant Andy Kennedy’s team is more than just a friendly matchup.
One of the teams will reach the 10-win mark in mid-December when the Mountaineers (9-1) take on UAB (9-2) in Birmingham, Ala.
The nonconference clash was scheduled because of Huggins’ relationship with UAB coach Andy Kennedy, a former assistant to Huggins when they were at Cincinnati.
“They’re different,” Huggins said of the Blazers. “Andy’s team is always going to be an offensive team. With Andy’s team, you’d better score some points or you’ll get beat pretty good because they’re going to score some points.”
West Virginia has won six games in a row, though this will mark the first game this season in an opposing team’s home city. The matchup will take place at newly renovated Legacy Arena, a downtown facility. The game will be the first college contest since the arena has been updated and it comes as part of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Basketball Classic.
UAB has won four straight games. All of the team’s wins in Birmingham — contested at the university’s Bartow Arena — have come by double-figure margins.
The Blazers’ most recent contest was a 79-61 win over Grambling on Tuesday. Kennedy said a three-day gap between games before playing West Virginia was important, especially to clean up some offensive inefficiencies.
“It’s really going to be problematic against a team like West Virginia,” Kennedy said. “When you have opportunities to finish plays at the basket, you’ve got to finish them.”
That message has been delivered to the Blazers.
“We got 11 games under our belt. Some things that we do shouldn’t even happen,” said guard Jordan Walker, the team’s leading scorer at 16.4 points per game. “Going into playing a team like West Virginia, those things can’t happen.”
West Virginia has gone three straight games without reaching the 70-point mark.
The Mountaineers have stressed defense recently, and that seemed to pay off when they topped Kent State 63-50 on Sunday.
“We’re doing individual defense 20, 25 minutes a practice trying to make sure we’re staying in front of people and other fundamental things, so hopefully that has helped and made a difference,” Huggins said.
The Blazers want a defensive reputation as well.
“We preach defense all the time,” Walker said. “We know our identity. That’s what we hold ourselves accountable (for) more than anything.”
Huggins fussed about the Mountaineers’ free-throw shooting from their last game, when they made just 13 of 24. That was a better rate than the previous game, when they hit just 12 of 27 in a three-point win over then-No. 15 UConn.
–Field Level Media