BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Be it basketball or fishing, Bob Huggins has no trouble recalling the fond memories he’s had during his previous trips to Buffalo.
They’re a lot better than any recollection the West Virginia coach has of Brooklyn.
A year after the Mountaineers were upset by 14th-ranked Stephen F. Austin in a first-round NCAA Tournament game at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center, Huggins returns to Buffalo in a bid to recapture the success West Virginia enjoyed 2010, when it reached the Final Four.
“Winning,” said Huggins of Buffalo, where he 3-0 overall as West Virginia’s coach. “It’s near and dear to myself.”
Not even a snowstorm that swamped the upstate New York region over the past few days could deter Huggins.
“We always want to go somewhere that has good weather,” Huggins said, with a wink. “No, we’re really comfortable here. You know, I think it’s great to play (in New York City), but you know the traffic and those kind of things, you spend more time almost planning on getting there and back … than you do preparing for the games.”
Huggins enjoyed Buffalo so much after 2010, he returned to go fishing.
“Lake Erie, and it was terrific,” he said.
His past success in upstate New York and last year’s loss were high on Huggins’ mind a day before the West Region’s fourth-seeded Mountaineers (26-9) face Patriot League champion Bucknell (26-8).
“I think we kind of took Stephen F. Austin for granted. And they were a good team,” Huggins said. “That was a terrible mistake.”
He’s counting on that being a lesson learned.
The Mountaineers have already matched last season’s win total. Nicknamed “Press” Virginia, the Mountaineers are playing with Huggins’ familiar style of stifling defense in leading the nation by forcing 20.4 turnovers and 10.4 steals.
What’s different is how well West Virginia’s offense is clicking. The Mountaineers rank 21st in the nation by averaging 82 points per game. Overall, they’ve scored 2,787 points, which is 97 short of matching the single-season school record set by the Jerry West-led 1958-59 Mountaineers.
West Virginia features a balanced attack with seven players averaging 6 or more points, and led by junior guard Jevon Carter (13.1 points).
Though West Virginia has gone 11-6 since opening 15-2, the team does count double-digit wins against then No. 1-ranked Baylor and then second-ranked Kansas.
The Mountaineers are succeeding despite losing Jaysean Paige to graduation and Devin Williams, who declared for the NBA draft as a junior.
“I think a lot of people didn’t think we would be where we are today,” Huggins said. “It’s a tribute to our guys, and our guys do the work. … They have improved and they’re for the most part fun to coach.”
Huggins then laughed, making light of his mercurial reputation, by suggesting his players might say he’s fun to play for.
Senior forward Nathan Adrian has no problem with Huggins’ demanding style.
“Hugs is a two-sided person,” Adrian said. “There’s what people see and what people perceive him to be, and then what he actually is, and that’s an extremely loyal, kind-hearted guy.”
With an 817-328 record, Huggins ranks third among active coaches in victories, and making his 23rd tournament appearance.
The 63-year-old Huggins, who has a history of heart trouble, gave his team a scare last month. He fell to his knees and clutched his chest along the sideline before halftime of a 77-62 win over Texas. Huggins finished the game and said his defibrillator went off.
Frightening as the moment appeared, Adrian can now joke about what happened.
“It kind of fired us up and we played well for the rest of the game and tried not to get him too mad at us anymore,” he said. “Give him a little rest.”
Huggins said he’s fine and feels as if he might have more energy now than at other times this season.
“I don’t really want that defibrillator to go off again, though,” Huggins said. “I’ve never been kicked by a mule, but I could imagine it’s pretty much the same.”
A few wins in Buffalo would certainly help.
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