By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Writer
No doubt West Virginia will have to do better than it did in its first attempt to topple No. 20 Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish host WVU at 7 p.m. today in South Bend, Ind. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.
Notre Dame beat the Mountaineers 55-51 in Morgantown Feb. 8 and held WVU to just 16 first-half points, then withstood a late rally to post a 55-51 win.
It was all part of an eight-game win streak by the Irish, the team’s longest run of consecutive wins in the Big East.
“We were awful the first half,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “We just had a spell where we didn’t play very well offensively. And then really we did a pretty good job in the second half to get back into the game and then they made some big shots — we didn’t and they did.”
Notre Dame (19-9, 10-4 Big East) is coming off a 74-70 overtime win at Villanova. More impressive, the Irish trailed by 20 points at one time and trailed by 10 with under six minutes to play before going on a 16-6 run to tie the game in regulation. Notre Dame won its fifth straight on the road in overtime.
“They’re playing really well,” said Huggins. “That was a heck of a comeback in the Villanova game.”
Notre Dame has been led of late by Jack Cooley. The 6-foot-9 junior was 7 of 9 from the floor against WVU and had 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Eric Atkins leads Notre Dame, averaging 13.0 points, Jerian Grant averages 12.9 points and 4.9 assists, Cooley is close to a double-double average with 12.2 points and 9.3 rebounds and freshman Pat Connaughton, who had 21 against Villanova, averages 7.3. Scott Martin, the other starter, averages 8.9 points and 5.7 boards.
There is some precedent for WVU pulling off the upset.
West Virginia (17-10, 7-7) is coming off one of its better performances of the season, beating Pittsburgh 66-48 at the Pederson Events Center, what had been a house of horrors for WVU, winning just once there in its previous seven attempts.
WVU had lost to the Panthers in Morgantown earlier in the season.
The Mountaineers got a balanced scoring attack, including 16 points and 13 rebounds from Big East player of the year front-runner Kevin Jones and 15 points from Truck Bryant, who did not start for the first time this season.
And WVU has won three times at Notre Dame, although the last time was in 1996. WVU has a 10-game losing streak at Purcell Pavillion.
Notre Dame has lost once at home this season, to Connecticut Jan. 14.
Jones leads WVU, averaging a double-double with 20.4 points per game and 11.3 rebounds. Bryant averages 16.7 with 60 3-pointers, and Deniz Kilicli, the former Mountain State Academy standout, who has played well of late, averages 11.6 and 5.4 rebounds. Jabarie Hinds averages 8.1 points and a team-best 3.4 assists, and Gary Browne averages 6.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
West Virginia has little turnaround after returning from South Bend. The Mountaineers host No. 10 Marquette at 9 p.m. Friday in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN.
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