The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., is the place for the East Regional semifinal as Lorenzo Romar’s No. 11 seed Washington Huskies (26-9) take on Bob Huggins' No. 2 seed West Virginia Mountaineers (29-6).
Pac-10 meets the Big East for a spot in the regional final. Both schools seek their first trip to Final Four in more than 50 years. The Mountaineers lost the national championship in 1959. The Huskies advanced to the national semifinals in 1953.
West Virginia is 1-9 all-time at the Carrier Dome. Thursday’s game marks Washington’s first visit to the Upstate New York stadium. The game pits teams from a pair of conferences that have taken hits of late. The Pac-10 barely earned an at-large bid this year, while six Big East teams fell in the first weekend of the tournament.
Washington won the only meeting between the two teams. In 1973, the Huskies downed the Mountaineers 96-79 in the Far West Classic.
The two coaches faced each other seven times in Conference USA when Romar led St. Louis and Huggins roamed the sidelines for Cincinnati. Huggins holds a 5-2 advantage, but Romar’s Billikens knocked off then-No. 1 Cincy to win the C-USA tournament and grab the automatic bid in 2000.
The teams share four common opponents from the season: Texas A&M, Portland, Georgetown, and Marquette. Washington went 3-1. WVU finished 5-0 against the quartet.
Thirteen Mountaineers have played in the NBA. Joe Alexander is the only current alum of West Virginia basketball in the Association. Twenty-three Huskies have laced them up in the Association. Current players include Jon Brockman, Will Conroy, Spencer Hawes, Nate Robinson, and Brandon Roy.
Who will establish tempo, and which players will execute? Washington averages almost 80 points a game while allowing 70. The Huskies opened the tournament scoring 80 on Marquette and 82 against New Mexico. The Lobos held opponents to 67.
West Virginia goes for almost 73 points per night and keeps opponents to 63. They held Morgan State to 50 and Missouri to 59.
Huggins deploys seven of his troops for double-digit minutes. Da’Sean Butler leads three Mountaineers who score in double figures.
Romar uses nine players for at least 10 minutes a game. Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas are the only two Huskies that score double figures, but combined they score less than half of Washington’s points. Can Romar exploit his team’s depth?
Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks combine for 25 points and 15.5 rebounds for the Mountaineers. The Mountaineers hold a plus-seven advantage on the glass.
WVU will need to slow the Huskies in transition. Thomas and Venoy Overton push the ball from foul line to foul line as quick as any tandem in the country.
Strange as it may sound, the Carrier Dome provides some comfort for West Virginia. WVU’s frequent visits during Big East play will create some familiarity. They will need it.
Led by Pondexter, the Huskies are playing like they have nothing to lose—because they don’t. Not much has been expected of Washington since some early-season struggles. West Virginia shoulders the burden of expectation.
Washington does its work in the paint. The Huskies have hit just 188 three-pointers this season. By comparison, Cornell has hit 321. Washington will keep this game close until late in the game, where their bench will have a chance to make the difference.