The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 4, 2013

WVU to face Mizzou in Big 12/SEC challenge

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

— West Virginia has a chance to make some history tonight when it travels to Columbia, Mo., for a 7 p.m. clash with Missouri as part of the Big 12/SEC challenge.

An ESPN2 television audience will be watching as WVU head coach Bob Huggins goes for win No. 730, which would move him past Jerry Tarkanian and Norm Stewart into 15th place on the NCAA all-time victory list.

Huggins, who’s told the story of getting in the truck without a rearview mirror and learning a lesson to never look back and keep moving forward on countless occasions since returning to his alma mater in 2007, doesn’t get caught up in the numbers. But the names do give him a sense of pride.

“Tark has been like a grandfather or an uncle to me,” said the Mountaineer coach after Monday’s 96-47 win over Loyola, speaking of the towel-chewing former UNLV leader. “When I was just a young kid, he kind of took me under his wing.

“I have great respect for Coach Stewart and what he did at Missouri,” he continued of the College Basketball Hall of Famer, who’s the only player in the MU Athletic Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. “Everything they have there is due in large degree to Norm Stewart.”

Passing Stewart on his home court, though, won’t be an easy task. Frank Haith’s Tigers have a 22-game home winning streak, the longest in the nation, at the state-of-the-art Mizzou Arena, and Huggins said he expects nearly 16,000 fans to pack the house.

 “We’re excited about it,” said Huggins. “It’s a great challenge for our guys, and we’re looking forward to going in and playing them.”

The Tigers (7-0) are averaging more than 80 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent from the field. Junior guard Jordan Clarkson (6-foot-5, 193 pounds) leads the team with 19.4 points per game, followed by fellow junior backcourt mate Jabari Brown (6-5, 214) at 19.3 points per game.

“They have big guards,” said Huggins. “They have more athletic guards than anybody we’ve played to this point. They’re probably the most athletic team we’ve played to this point. They want to play fast.”

Size isn’t only an advantage in the backcourt. In the paint, the Tigers have two players that stand 6-11, two that are 6-10 and freshman Jonathan Williams III, a 6-9 forward who leads the team with 8.3 rebounds per game.

“If we don’t do a better job of blocking out higher and keeping them from pushing us under the basket, it’s going to be a long night for us on the glass,” said Huggins. “Obviously, we’re going to have to make some shots.”

The Mountaineers (6-2) have candidates to fill that need. They’re 27th nationally, averaging 85.1 points per game. Sophomore guard Eron Harris is tops with 20.3 points per contest, and junior point guard Juwan Staten is averaging 16.4 points and 7.5 assists per outing.

Remi Dibo (10.4 ppg) and freshman Devin Williams (10 ppg) can also score, and Williams leads WVU with eight rebounds per game.

— E-mail: chuffman and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.