MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After battling their way to a championship at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic, the schedule will only get more challenging for WVU men’s basketball as December begins.
A loaded two-week stretch before Big 12 play starts Wednesday with a showdown in Indianapolis: No. 11 West Virginia will take on No. 1 Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic.
How did the Mountaineers book a matchup with the nation’s top team? Gonzaga had an opening in its schedule due to COVID-19 issues at Tennessee, and it only took a few phone calls from head coach Bob Huggins to put the game on the calendar.
“You ever been in South Dakota in a bubble? You get bored,” Huggins said Monday. “We were sitting there watching basketball and it came across the ticker that Tennessee had kind of an outbreak, and so they cancelled, and they [Gonzaga] needed a game. You know, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve got some very dear friends, and ESPN — I thought, what the heck, let’s go play Gonzaga.”
Wednesday’s game will mark a big test for the Mountaineers, as Gonzaga earned a Thanksgiving Day victory over perennial Big 12 power Kansas, 102-90.
Guard Taz Sherman, who transferred to WVU prior to last season, said this is the type of matchup in which athletes want to play.
“We’re all excited, of course,” Sherman said. “That’s why you come to a high-major Division I program, is to play the best teams in the country, just to be on that national scale, national stage. We all are ready and excited and thankful to have this opportunity to play on this big stage, and this is a big game for us.”
Sherman said he and most of his teammates found out about the matchup at halftime of their season opener against South Dakota State.
“He [Huggins] was kind of just like, ‘I called ESPN this morning. I just told them we’re gonna take that slot,’” Sherman said. “He saw the little ticker on ESPN, and that’s how he told us.”
WVU is 2-4 vs. the No. 1 team in the AP poll under Huggins and 5-10 all-time against top-ranked teams.