The coaches are about to jump on stage for their press conferences soon, and I’m certain we’ll discover they’re pals and that they don’t agree on the ambulance story, but I’m just as sure they’ll entertain.
“John and I go back 30, 40 years,” Huggins said Sunday night inside Nationwide Arena, where WVU had just ousted fourth-seeded Maryland, 69-59, to advance to the second week of the NCAA tournament. “We know each other really, really well and we’ve played against each other a bunch of times.”
Huggins, who clinched his seventh Sweet Sixteen appearance with two wins in three days in Columbus, Ohio over the weekend, caught himself. He felt he misused “played” and needed to say “coached,” but it was an opportunity to let his dry humor emerge for a moment.
“Coached,” he said, correcting his previous statement. “Coached against each other a bunch of times. I wish I could play against Cal — we’d have a better chance.”
Devin Williams will have to play big tomorrow, and probably more so far from the basket than at the basket as a way to move the trees from the heart of the forest, but at least he knows what he has to do to topple Kentucky.
“We want the game to be as ugly as we can make it so at the end of the game, whatever way it goes, both teams are going to have their tongues hanging out. That’s the only way it can be,” Williams said. The only way it can be is if both teams have their tongues hanging out of their mouth. We’re going to go out there and compete. They’re a great team and they’re making history already, but we’re going to go home and get rested, and we’ll be prepared.”
There’s a good background story to this, and the truth is I’ve been sort of obsessed with reporting this story for a long, long time, but that’ll have to wait for another day. My story pales in comparison to The Quintessential Bob Huggins story, and the latter has new life. Last week, I talked to Gene Ford, who helped me find Phil.
“Phil Westhafer,” Ford said. “He went on to become a teacher for many years.”
You are looking live at a little Paint work I did here today, and it gives you an idea what else is on the line today for Bob Huggins, who’s already banked $50,000 this week and can add another 40 grr tonight.
The ‘C’ might as well also stand for “conference affiliation,” because the Big 12 wasn’t looking too good about an hour ago. Oklahoma looked in danger, and a subsewuent WVU loss would be the second time in four days the RPI’s top-rated conference went 0-3, and it would leave the 10-team league without a school in the Sweet Sixteen after it and the ACC saw a field-best seven teams named on selection Sunday.
Oklahoma prevailed, though, and it’s just the Sooners and the Mountaineers still standing here in ‘C’olumbus.
Another? ‘C’areer. If WVU loses and Juwan Staten and Gary Browne (and I suppose also Kevin Noreen) are done at WVU, Browne earns a whale of a distinction: The last player to sign, play four seasons and not reach the Sweet Sixteen was 1999 signee Josh Yeager.
‘C’ is also for “chair.” Remember this?
That’d be Ed ‘C’ooley and the most “Hey, look at me!” technical foul ever. The whistle-blower? Terry Oglesby. The scene? Columbus. What am I dancing around? You already know. Oglesby is one of your officials tonight, along with Tom Eades and Terry Wymer.
But there is some ‘c’ontinuity here that I think you’d like. Wymer is a Big Ten/MAC official who hasn’t seen WU, but has seen Maryland seven times (the Terps are 4-3). Eades is a Big 12/Big Ten official. He’s seen Maryland twice (Terps are 2-2) and worked once of those games with Wymer (a Maryland win). He’s seen WVU four times (WVU is 3-1). Oglesby is also a Big 12/Big Ten official. He’s seen Maryland six times (Terps are 5-1) and WVU three times (2-1). He and Eades both worked the chippy WVU over Texas at the Coliseum.
I think you can find a certain ‘c’almness about getting officials who have seen the teams, who know the conferences and have even worked together in games involving these teams.
Speaking of calm, lots of “head down, writing” tonight, so do pick up the saber for me, if you will. Let’s.
Buffalo lived up to the hype and blustered its way through the game yesterday, though never too brazenly or outside the rules. The game was tense and on a few occasions in both halves seemed headed toward a breaking point, but there were no episodes and there were no technical fouls … which was a surprise, to me at least.
Gary Browne and Jarryn Skeete had a tussle on the sideline near the Buffalo bench in the first half, and Browne told the official, in a matter of speaking, he was tired of Skeete holding him. But that settled quickly, and Browne said he soon shrugged off Skeete’s antics.
“You look at the board, the board says, No. 11 says, that the press Kentucky has is as good as West Virginia has, if not better,” Browne said, loosely quoting Evans’ words. “I didn’t see him breaking our press today.”
Puzzled were we yesterday afternoon when we saw WVU play zone defense and slow down on offense, and we began to weigh the repercussions when Buffalo made a game of it as the Mountaineers downshifted out of character. What seemed especially curious was that Tarik Phillip was in the lineup while theretofore clutch freshmen Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles watched from the bench.
Turns out we weren’t alone in our curiosity.
Q. Tarik’s been in and out of your good graces at times this year.
COACH HUGGINS: I’ve loved Tarik the whole time. Don’t say that now.
Q. How about this? Dax or Jevon or maybe both of them that have been in the game late at that position. What was there reason for Tarik, was it him playing well earlier offensively. Did he have a good game defensively, anything in particular?
COACH HUGGINS: Tarik has the ability to be our best on-the-ball defender. And he’s really long and athletic. And I thought he’d do a better job of rebounding the ball than what the other two guys would have. It wasn’t for him to really to take the shot. It was for the other end. It was for the defensive purposes. And really I kind of thought why didn’t I get him out and get J.C. in to shoot the ball on penetration. And my absent-mindedness probably won the game.
Indeed, as Phillip knuckled up and hit an awkward 3-pointer that clinched WVU’s first-round victory Friday and buried a seven-game postseason losing streak. This was hardly a clinic on late-game execution, and few things went as planned, except the part about the ball going through the hoop.
“Probably the only one who wanted Tarik to shoot it,” Huggins said, “was Tarik.”
He shot not as he’d been taught or as he’d rehearsed, but as the situation allowed. He wasn’t aligned and he faded back from the basket, but he was more concerned with getting the ball out before the buzzer and putting it up so it wouldn’t be blocked again and so that it would at least hit the rim. If he could do all of that, he’d avoid a turnover and a stoppage and give his teammates a chance for another rebound.
“That’s when he makes his shot,” Miles said. “When his feet are turned to the side, that’s when his shot’s on point.”
Up next: Maryland, the No. 4 seed to WVU’s No. 5, at roughly 8:40 p.m. Sunday.