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Mountaineers Face Tough Test

WVU Plays No. 15 Connecticut in Big East Throwback

West Virginia guard Taz Sherman (12) drives past Radford guard Josiah Jeffers (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

MORGANTOWN — If you asked Bob Huggins, no stranger to tough love, he’d probably say his bunch is the worst 7-1 team in America.

“I’m worried more about us than I am anything,” Huggins said. “We’re struggling. (We’re) trying to get us fixed.”

The veteran head coach has often been outspoken about the Mountaineers’ missteps, but spared no expense highlighting the team’s flaws on Tuesday.

“Trying to get them to throw it to the team that has the same color shirt they have on, they’re struggling with that, they’re throwing the ball around,” Huggins said. “Turnovers. We don’t rebound it. Other than a couple guys, we haven’t made shots. We haven’t made free throws. You want me to keep going?”

They’ll carry those woes into Wednesday’s matchup against No. 15 Connecticut, an 8-1 squad that, to this point, represents West Virginia’s toughest test of the season. The Huskies, who enter the day on a three-game winning streak, are one of the Big East’s best teams and for good reason.

Offensively, they’re dominant.

They possess the conference’s most explosive unit, averaging 85.9 points per game while outscoring opponents by an average of nearly 24 points per game. And it all starts with R.J. Cole, one of the team’s starting guards.

Cole, a graduate student, averages a team-high 16.3 points and 4.4 assists per game.

“He’s really good,” Huggins said. “He can get them in offense, he can score. He defends. He’s a really good rebounder for a 6-foot-1 guy. To me, from the outside looking in, it looks like he’s the guy who runs the show. He’s the guy that makes everything happen. He’s the guy that makes sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing.”

UConn is also elite when it comes to rebounding, besting opponents by more than 10 per game.

Guard Tyrese Martin and forward Adama Sanogo, who rank first and third on the team, are expected to be sidelined due to injury, but their absences will be softened by the team’s deep roster.

“It’s definitely going to be our hardest game so far this season,” forward Isaiah Cottrell said. “They’re an athletic team, they run every single time down the floor. Our conversations we had were just play harder, play faster, play longer than them and come out victorious.”

Huggins echoed his starting center, saying that he hopes the Mountaineers can use the game as momentum to continue their improvement.

“They’re good, (head coach) Danny (Hurley)’s got a really good team,” Huggins said. “They’re deep, they’re so athletic. They can score multiple ways. They’ve got a lot of guys who can score. They really defend. I wish we were a little better at this time. Hopefully we get better, but, I wish we were a little better at this time. It’d be a better game.”

As UConn is WVU’s first ranked opponent of the season, Cottrell is eager for the opportunity to make an impression.

“Just to show all the voters and all the fans that we deserve to be ranked higher, especially in the AP (poll),” Cottrell said. “It’s a big game for us, for sure.”

“We just gotta take care of every team that we play and, games that we know that we can win, we need to win the games,” Cottrell later added. “We can’t just scrape by, we need to actually take care of business.”

McNeil still day-to-day

Sean McNeil’s Wednesday plans are still unknown. McNeil, who was sidelined against Radford on Saturday with a lower back injury,

When asked about McNeil’s status on Tuesday, Huggins threw his hand up as if to say he was unsure.

“He’s probably day-to-day, I would guess,” Huggins said.

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