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West Virginia has experience advantage

| Thursday, March 25, 2010

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - West Virginia coach Bob Huggins' success in the NCAA Tournament extends beyond his ability to attract talented recruits who sacrifice their offense to fit his defensive-minded philosophy.

Huggins has an impressive 13-4 career record against the first three coaches he faced in this year's Tournament, and his experience empowered him to convey insight to his players about upcoming opponents.

Against Missouri coach Mike Anderson in Sunday's second-round of the East Regional, West Virginia (29-6) committed only 10 turnovers in a 68-59 win. Missouri entered the game leading the nation in forcing nearly 20 turnovers per contest.

"I told our guys we had an advantage because I've coached against Mike so many times,'' said Huggins, who is now 5-1 against Anderson. "I knew what we did in the past, so I think that was an advantage for us.''

Entering tonight's Sweet 16 matchup against Washington (26-9) in the Carrier Dome at Syracuse, N.Y., Huggins holds a similar advantage over Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar.

Huggins and Romar met seven times when Huggins coached Cincinnati and Romar was at Saint Louis as members of Conference USA. Huggins holds a 5-2 edge.

One of Saint Louis' wins occured during Romar's first season. Saint Louis upset Huggins' Bearcats, ranked No. 1 in the nation, in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. That led to Saint Louis earning the league's automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

"Lorenzo is a very good friend of mine," Huggins said. "I have great respect for him as a person and coach.''

Huggins and Romar forged a friendship a decade before becoming coaching rivals. When Romar's NBA career ended in 1985, he joined Athletes in Action, a spiritually-based touring basketball team composed of former pro and college standouts.

Romar played seven years with Athletes in Action, based in Cincinnati. In 1989, Romar met Huggins, who became the Bearcats' coach that year.

"I was still staying in shape those days, and I'd play with their guys quite a bit," Romar said. "I got to watch Coach Huggins conduct his practices. Even went to one of their banquets. I got real close to their program.

"What struck me was how demanding he was of his team. You could tell he knew exactly what he wanted, and he recruited players that fit his philosophy. What also struck me ... that away from the barking in practice, was how nice of a guy he was."

Huggins has mellowed from his Cincinnati years.

"I was 35 when I got the Cincinnati job,'' said Huggins, 56. "I think that's where the term 'youthful exuberance' came from. You are a little more excitable.''

West Virginia fans have a lot to be excited about at the moment as the Mountaineers have won 16 of 19 entering tonight's game, including eight straight. Washington is also hot, winning 14 of 16, including nine straight.

But give Romar credit for turning around a team that lost five of its first eight games in the Pac-10.

"When we're playing well, I may get on the guys more,'' Romar said. "When we're trying, but we're just not doing well, I think at that point sometimes it needs to be more teaching than yelling. And that's what I've tried to do.''

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