Elliott: Huggs Wins 20th Against Top 25 At West Virginia

MORGANTOWN – As he walked off the court Saturday afternoon, Georgetown star Hollis Thompson asked his teammates how they just lost to ”this team,” of course, meaning West Virginia.

First, Truck Bryant’s response.

”He can say, ‘how did they lose to us?’ but if he hasn’t realized, we beat them the last five times,” Bryant pointed out. ”It wasn’t just (Saturday). I’ve never lost to them.”

The truth is, Thompson is far from alone in experiencing that ”Shawshank” moment, one in which one wonders how someone who clearly shouldn’t have gotten the best of them, did. The Mountaineers’ 74-62 victory against No. 9 Hoyas was their 20th triumph vs. a Top-25 team since Bob Huggins came back to his alma mater at the beginning of the 2007-08 season.

More than a few of those have come against Top-10 teams, including No. 10 Marquette and No. 9 Duke in Huggins’ first year, No. 9 Villanova and (top-seed) Kentucky two years ago, and No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 8 Purdue last season.

Thompson’s words echoed what Kentucky’s Ramon Harris said that night in Syracuse when West Virginia advanced to the Final Four.

”I think we’re the best team in the country, hands down,” he said of the Wildcats, who fell to 35-3 after that loss. ”But we just didn’t play like it (Saturday).”

It happens.

”It’s all coaching,” Huggins joked. ”The thing about it is you have so many opportunities. In some leagues, you get one opportunity. In this league, you get one seemingly every night out. (They’ll get another one Monday night at No. 8 UConn).

”The ones that aren’t in the Top 25 probably ought to be. We lose to Seton Hall. If Seton Hall’s not a Top-25 team after what they’ve done, then I don’t know who is. We just get so many chances. In this league, you can’t get down and you can’t get too up. You have to maintain an even keel. Plus, there’s a lot of good coaches in this league.”

That’s all true, but Duke plays in the ACC, Purdue the Big Ten, and Kentucky in the SEC. So there’s more to it than just opportunity.

(Note, WVU has won just 77 games against ranked teams in a century of basketball playing).

Freshman Gary Browne, who scored 12 points against the Hoyas on Saturday, says it generally just comes down to who wants it more.

”We know the (other) team is really good so the pressure is on them,” Browne said. ”It’s not on us. We’re hungry right now. We feel disrespected. We come in to play hard if they’re good or not. We play hard because we need to win a lot of games.”

Seniors Kevin Jones (22 points, 16 rebounds vs. Georgetown) and Bryant (25 points, 9 of 11 free-throw shooting) have been a part of 17 victories against Top-25 teams while wearing Mountaineers uniforms. That’s likely a record, though not one the school keeps handy.

A lot of those come at home, where the crowd helps pump energy into the players.

”This was a good resume builder for us,” Jones said. ”Coming in here and beating a team like Georgetown is always good. Of course, Big East games are always better when you’re in front of your home crowd so we definitely wanted to win in front of this crowd.”

In answering the question, Bryant unearthed what is probably the biggest reason West Virginia has four losses to go with its 11 victories.

”Just ready to play (against the big boys),” Bryant said. ”But that’s the problem. We need to be ready to play against people who aren’t in the Top-25, Top-10. That’s something we have to get better at as a team.”

Certainly, but those victories they’re piling up against the nation’s elite are happening with greater frequency than they ever have.

Huggins might be right. Maybe it is the coaching.