MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There is still a sour taste in Bob Huggins’ mouth and no matter how many times he brushes his teeth, it won’t go away.
It’s been there since March 23, 2017, the beginning — and the end — of March Madness.
Whomever gave the NCAA basketball tournament the moniker March Madness meant “craziness” when it came to the name, but Huggins wound up both mad and crazy in the sense of angry, disappointed and deflated, let alone defeated, for in the Sweet 16 of that tournament West Virginia lost to No. 1 Gonzaga, 61-58.
The Mountaineers get a shot at redemption — a far more fitting word than revenge in these circumstances — when they take on Gonzaga, again the No. 1 team in the country, in the Jimmy V Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
And speaking of disappointments, Indianapolis is the same city in which WVU suffered perhaps Bob Huggins’ greatest disappointment as Mountaineer coach when his team lost to Duke and Da’Sean Butler was injured in the national semifinal.
See, in that most recent Gonzaga game, WVU could not have played worse on offense, making just 16 of 60 attempts from the field, including 5 of 23 from 3-point range.
“You tell me another team in the country who can shoot 26 percent from the field against a No. 1 seed, 21 percent from 3, and still could have — should have — won the game,” Huggins said. “I think that says a lot about what kind of guys we have.”
The madness and sadness came because Huggins had a team he liked that year, a that had gone to the final of the Big 12 Tournament before losing to Iowa State, a team that beaten Bucknell and Notre Dame before being matched up with Gonzaga.
It was a team led by Jevon Carter, who had 21 points to be the only Mountaineer to reach double figures in the game, yet in the end it was Carter who couldn’t make the key shot as he tried from three to tie after Jordan Mathews’ 3 from the corner put the Zags in front with 50 seconds left.
Showing the character that made him the player he was, Carter did not back down from taking responsibility for how the game ended.
“That was a mistake on my part,” Carter admitted.. “’I knew they had a lot of guys at the top. I should have drove to the basket, but knowing it was a 3-point game, I tried to go for the 3 since I’d been hitting. If I am in that position again, I’ll take it to the basket.”
But the loss really was built upon WVU’s inability to make baskets — Tarik Phillip make just 1 of 11 shots and Daxter Miles Jr. 3 of 11 — and because they had trouble with the size Gonzaga presented.
“Their size bothers everybody around the rim,” Huggins said. “When you’re driving at the goal and you run into a 7-1, 300-and-whatever-he-is, it’s hard to score. And we just didn’t make shots that we normally make.”
Now the No. 11 Mountaineers face Gonzaga again and while not as much is on the line, it is a chance to grab some national respect.
“It’s a statement game,” said WVU’s defensive stopper Gabe Osabuohein. “We had a good chance to make a run way playing last year (when the season was called off before the Big 12 Tournament due to the pandemic). “We want to show people we belong there and can be in the Final Four.”
Gonzaga has become a fixture in the Top 10 in recent years.
“Coach Mark Few would be the first to say he owes a lot of it to Dan Monson,” Huggins said. “He really got it going. I think people forget they were on probation when Monson took over and he really got them going. ‘Fewie’ has taken it to another level. He really has.
“They have done a great job recruiting. He was probably at the forefront of taking transfers and doing a great job of fitting them into what they do. You can go back and look at the team we lost to in the Sweet 16. They had a bunch of transfers. He’s taken freshmen, he’s taken juco guys and he’s taken transfers and melded them all together.”
* * * * * *
No. 19 Richmond, who is scheduled to come into the Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 13 on the heels of winning at Kentucky, has paused all team activities and canceled Wednesday’s game at the College of Charleston after results from COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.
There was no word on whether they would be able to play in Morgantown in 12 days.