UConn-West Virginia Preview
As Connecticut looks to follow up a national title run by winning its first tournament this season, it must prevent West Virginia coach Bob Huggins from continuing his success in Puerto Rico.
In a matchup of former Big East foes, the No. 17 Huskies face the Mountaineers in Sunday night’s championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Coming off the school’s second national championship in four years, Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie expects his team to be ready to handle the best every opponent has offer, and thus far it’s been up to the challenge.
Despite a somewhat lackluster second-half effort in the 65-57 win over the College of Charleston in its tournament opener, UConn (3-0) broke open a game tied at halftime by holding Dayton to 28.6 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes of Friday’s 75-64 semifinal victory.
”They make things very difficult on you," Flyers coach Archie Miller said.
Guard Ryan Boatright scored 20 and North Carolina State transfer Rodney Purvis added 19 to help the Huskies advance to the finals in their first year playing in the event.
”That’s what we demand,” Ollie said. ”(There’s) going to be some ups and downs…Everybody wants to beat the champion, so our team is understanding that. I’m glad we had those different tests early.”
Things likely won’t get easier against West Virginia (4-0), which held off Boston College 70-66 on Friday to reach the Tip-Off finals for the second time in five years. The Mountaineers lost 74-70 to Minnesota in 2010.
Though Huggins’ squad fell short then, he twice won the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic while coaching Cincinnati and looks forward for the chance to add another in this matchup with a familiar opponent.
"These kinds of tournaments that are kind of made for TV, you have a tendency to attract great teams from great conferences," Huggins said. "We are back in the finals against UConn and we have had some great games against them over the years. I hope Sunday is just as good as some of the others, but with us winning it."
Since taking over the West Virginia program in 2007, Huggins is 2-5 against the Huskies.
Boatright scored 10 points off the bench to help UConn win the most recent meeting, 71-67 in overtime in the second round of the 2012 Big East tournament. That was the Mountaineers’ final conference matchup as a member of the Big East.
”It will be a challenge," Huggins said.
While the Mountaineers have allowed their first two opponents in Puerto Rico to shoot a combined 51.6 percent, they could pose a serious challenge to the Huskies with the way they effectively pressure the ball. Connecticut has averaged 10.3 turnovers through three games, but West Virginia ranks among the national leaders with 48 steals and forcing 22.3 turnovers per contest.
The Mountaineers overcame George Mason’s 48.9 percent shooting by scoring 31 points off 24 turnovers in Thursday’s 91-65 victory. Boston College shot 54.3 percent but committed 21 turnovers that West Virginia turned into 20 points.
Huggins’ team shot 29.6 percent in the first half Friday, but 54.5 in the second to overcome a 12-point deficit and open with four straight wins for the first time since going 11-0 in 2009-10.
Six-foot-9 West Virginia sophomore Devin Williams averages a team-leading 15.3 points and recorded three straight double-doubles prior to pulling down three rebounds against Boston College.