Former Big East rivals West Virginia and Notre Dame will meet in a second-round NCAA Tournament matchup on Saturday at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, N.Y.
West Virginia (27-8), now playing in the Big 12, and Notre Dame (26-9), now in the Atlantic Coast Conference, both had to grind out first-round victories to set up a meeting between the No. 4 and 5 seeds in the West region.
The Mountaineers overmatched Bucknell in an 86-80 victory. They opened up an early 15-point lead and relied on their size and strength advantages to hold off the Bisons’ rally. The scoring output was West Virginia’s highest in an NCAA Tournament game since 1982.
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“We’ve got to play a little better defense, but we’ll fix it,” said senior forward Nathan Adrian, who had 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Earning the nickname “Press Virginia,” for their relentless full-court defense, the Mountaineers didn’t disrupt Bucknell’s offense as much as they had hoped to. They forced 13 turnovers, below their season-average of 20.3, which leads the nation.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame has the lowest turnover rate in the country (13.8 percent of possessions) and matched a school record for fewest turnovers in an NCAA Tournament game (six) in outlasting Princeton 60-58. It was the fewest points the Irish have ever scored in a tournament victory.
“I’m thrilled about our defense,” coach Mike Brey said. “That’s how we were going to escape, and we did escape.”
Big man Bonzie Colson overcame a sore ankle to score 18 points and grab eight rebounds for the Irish, who scored 44 of their points in the paint and on free throws.
“My ankle’s good,” Colson said. “I’m ready to play again. It’s fine. I’m going to ice it up. I’ll be ready.”
Swingman Rex Pflueger had to have a gash above his eye glued shut in the first half, but he returned to key Notre Dame’s perimeter defense, which held Bucknell to 8 of 31 shooting from 3-point range.
“He’s a tough kid,” Brey said. “We would have stitched any other of our guys, but since he’s from L.A. and he’s into Hollywood, we didn’t want to mess his face up. So we glued his head up because he could be a movie star someday.”
Notre Dame and West Virginia last met in 2012 when both teams were still members of the Big East. The Irish swept the season series, winning 55-51 in Morgantown, W.Va., and 71-44 at home. Both teams went on to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that season.
The Irish are the only team to reach the Elite Eight in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments.
West Virginia has advanced to the Sweet 16 in six of the last 10 seasons. The Mountaineers began their 2010 Final Four run with two victories in Buffalo.