No. 12 West Virginia aims for Huggins' 800th win (Dec 17, 2016)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Fans of No. 12 West Virginia anticipate a ceremonial atmosphere Saturday when Bob Huggins pursues his 800th coaching victory.
He's more concerned with making sure his team doesn't overlook UMKC.
"I want it to be over, so we can get back to doing what were supposed to do," Huggins said. "People are going to take that the wrong way, but it's a distraction and I don't like distractions."
The Mountaineers (8-1) are on a four-game winning streak and looking the part of a squad picked second in the Big 12. Yet they're only 66th in the RPI, a function of playing a soft schedule that ranks in the bottom half of Division I. The Kangaroos (7-5), with an RPI of 141, represent the highest-ranked opponent on West Virginia's plate during a five-game stretch against mid-majors.
Hence, the ramped-up focus surrounding victory No. 800, which according to Huggins, "just means I'm old."
If precedent holds, his players won't approach the day nonchalantly.
Following win No. 600 in 2007, Huggins recalled that "Alex Ruoff and those guys went crazy," and after No. 700 in 2011, the coach said guard Gary Browne "about broke my neck."
Present-day point guard Tarik Phillip credited Huggins' long track record with attracting players who want to learn the game.
"Those 800 wins, it shows he knows what he's doing," Phillip said. "He's a great coach, everybody knows this. If you listen to him, good things arguing to happen."
Huggins' milestone brings some temporary notoriety to UMKC, seeking its first winning season since 2011 and its first NCAA tournament bid since moving to Division I some 28 seasons ago.
The Kangaroos' mission became more difficult this week when then-top scorer Martez Harrison (16.5 points, 4.0 assists), was dismissed from the team following a domestic violence charge. The senior guard had missed the previous five games as the university investigated.
"His conduct fell far short of what we expect from those who represent our men's basketball program and university," said coach Kareem Richardson. "After gathering more facts from Title IX office officials during his suspension, and further discussions with athletics department personnel, the decision was made to permanently remove him from our program."
Guard Lovell Boyd (19.8 points, 4.1 assists) stepped up his production in Harrison's absence, including a career-best 27 points in Thursday's 80-75 home loss to Nebraska Omaha. Boyd also had 21 points and six assists in a 105-62 loss at Kansas.
The Kangaroos rank 18th nationally in 3-point baskets (9.9 per game) and will aim to launch quick shots against West Virginia's full-court pressure.
"They're going to shoot a lot of 3s and they'll try to spread us," Huggins said. "We're going to have make really good rotations coming out of traps because they're going to shoot it quicker than a lot of people would.
"They'll make some 3s early, but hopefully we wear them down to where we take their legs out of it."
West Virginia's deep, balanced attack is led by forwards Esa Ahmad (12.7 points, 5.4 rebounds) and Nathan Adrian (10.6 points, 6.4 rebounds). The backcourt includes defensive ballhound Jevon Carter (9.1 points, 4.2 assists), along with Daxter Miles (9.3 points) and Teyvon Myers (9.4 points).