West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team continues its NCAA Tournament journey tonight in San Jose.
The Mountaineers will tip-off in their 7th Sweet 16 game in the last 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament tonight at 7:39. The 4th seeded Mountaineers will take on No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga has lost just one game all season, that against Brigham Young University.
Gonzaga has won all three of the games it’s played against WVU. The last was a December 2013 meeting that ended 80-76.
WVU Head Coach Bob Huggins said the key this year’s March Madness run so far for the Mountaineers has been the play of the team’s guards.
“Did I know they were that good? I know this, they put an enormous amount of time in,” Huggins said. “They’re in the practice facility 12 months out of the year. And you know it’s great when you don’t have to kind of tell people to go in there, they go in there and you can see, Tarik came in not a very good shooter and he’s a pretty good shooter now. JC came in and was not real consistent -- he’s pretty consistent now.”
The guards that Huggins is talking about are juniors Javon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. and senior Tarik Phillip. The Mountaineers have become known for their defense during the past few seasons and have been dubbed Press Virginia for their full-court pressure.
But a little known fact is that the Mountaineers scored a school record 2,956 points this year, besting the previous record of 2,884 set in 1959.
Tarik Phillip said the guards and the team deserve much more respect for their effectiveness on the offensive end.
“First couple of years here they thought of us as defensive players, but coach and the coaching staff instilled a lot of confidence in us and helped us develop our offensive game and we became pretty good offensive players,” Phillip said.
WVU met the Zags once before in the NCAA Tournament in 2012. The Bulldogs won that contest 77-54. Javon Carter said they’ve all progressed because they’ve all been playing with a little extra motivation.
“We keep that chip on our shoulder,” Carter said. “A wise man once said remember where you come from and we always keep that in the back of our mind, all three of us up here, it wasn’t an easy path to get to West Virginia. We had to grind it out every step of the way and when we get on the court it just gives us a chance to go show it and prove that other schools missed out on us.”
If the Mountaineers can advance in the Western Regional in San Jose, they’ll take on the winner of the Arizona and Xavier game on Saturday for a chance to advance to the Final Four. It would be the Mountaineers’ second Final Four appearance since 2010. Gonzaga is one of just three teams to appear in each of the last three Sweet 16 contests including this year. The Bulldogs are 1-1 in the past two.