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West Virginia University focused on itself

| Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is known around college basketball for his three-hour practices and punishments, such as running full speed on a treadmill.

So, when WVU players walked into their first practice following a 67-61 loss to Marquette in the Big East Tournament second round, they expected the worst.

The Mountaineers lost a 10-point lead en route to an early departure from New York, possibly squashing momentum for a second straight Final Four run.

But Huggins tried a different tactic -- letting the Mountaineers off easy.

"What are you going to do• What are you going to prepare for• Huggins asked about practicing prior to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show. "You don't have any idea what style of play you're going up against, if they throw it to bigs or if they're guard-oriented. You don't have any idea."

WVU junior forward Kevin Jones even went so far as to call those practices "fun."

"We've been less stressed because we haven't been focusing on an opponent," he said. "We've just been working on ourselves internally as a team. Everybody is in good spirits and had good energy."

Jones said WVU had its worst practices of the season two straight days prior to facing Marquette.

Huggins gave a simple reason for that: His team was sick. He admitted Sunday that forward Cam Thoroughman and at least three other players were under the weather during practice, which limited what the team was able to accomplish in preparation for the Big East Tournament.

"When you have nine guys and some of those guys are sick and pale and don't feel very good, it's hard to have a good practice," Huggins said.

Despite the sickness, the players aren't using that as an excuse. They knew when leaving Madison Square Garden after one game that the next few practices were the key to improving prior to NCAA Tournament play.

"The team's spirit has been up, and no one is holding their head down," Jones said. "Everyone knows that this is a new season for us. We are starting 0-0, and hopefully, we finish 6-0."

West Virginia won't have as much time as most NCAA Tournament teams to focus on its next opponent.

Because of the new 68-team field, the Mountaineers will face the winner of tonight's play-in game between UAB and Clemson. WVU's second-round game will be 12:15 p.m. in Tampa, Fla.

"We've had a bonding experience over the last few days at practice," Jones said. "We've got team chemistry back, which we didn't have in the Garden ... Everyone is in good spirits, so I think we'll have a nice run in the NCAA Tournament."

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