MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Baron of the Bluegrass officially has company with The Huggy Bear.
Bob Huggins tied Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp for seventh place all-time on the NCAA career wins list, earning his 876th career victory courtesy of a 74-51 laugher over Missouri (9-10) in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Huggins was exactly as celebratory as you’d expect, comparing it to whenever his dad would reach coaching milestones in the Ohio high school ranks.
“I used to sit and listen to my dad, they’d tell him, ‘That was win number whatever’ and his response was ‘Man, that just means I’m old.’ Every one of those guys on there are old,” Huggins said. “I’m more caught up on we’re 16-3 and we need to be 29-3.”
None of West Virginia’s players were alive during Rupp’s lifetime, but they did recognize that history was made Saturday afternoon.
“We know he’s not going to make a big deal of it, because that’s not him,” said freshman guard Miles McBride, who tied Jermaine Haley with a team-high 15 points. “But everybody in that locker room wants everybody who is in that locker room to succeed. We knew we wanted to come out and get this win for him.”
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin, who played at Purdue when Huggins’ Cincinnati teams were at the height of their powers, also showed his respect.
“He’s a legend,” Martin said. “I’ve always admired him. For all these years, he’s allowed his players to have a voice. Especially in those years at Cincinnati, allowing them to grow as young men, especially coming from certain environments. I thought he’s always been one of the best at that.
“His teams have always been tough. They play hard and play together. The sign of a good culture is when the names on the back of the jersey change, but the program stays the same.”
To what extent was it West Virginia’s day?
On two separate occasions, the Mountaineers missed the front end of 1-and-1 free-throw attempts, grabbed the offensive rebound and promptly made three-pointers.
“Knowing the way we were shooting free throws, I knew we would have the opportunity to go for it,” said Gabe Osabuohien, who had one of those rebound-assists. “Playing hard and getting it, you know the three-pointer is open, kicking out. Being able to knock it down, it fueled us to keep it going.”
This was also the second straight game in which West Virginia put its opponent to bed with a run of at least 20 points.
Clinging to a 26-25 lead early in the second half, the Mountaineers exploded for a 21-0 run to take the teeth out of the Tigers. Both three-pointers that began as missed free throws were part of that run.
Long runs are becoming habitual for the Mountaineers, who used a 28-2 explosion against Texas to pull away from the Longhorns on Monday night.
“We’ve got a lot of options on offense,” Haley said. “It starts with getting stops to get easy baskets. Coach says we’re not always going to be able to grind out possessions in the half-court. We did a great job of executing on defense in the second half.”
West Virginia’s strong start to the second half required some motivation from Huggins after the Mountaineers staggered to the locker room to close out the first. WVU opened the game with a 20-6 lead, but looked lost on offense as it only scored four points in the final 8:11 of the first half.
Despite limiting Missouri to 21 percent from the field, the Mountaineers only led 24-23 at the break.
“Huggins told us, ‘Who is this team in the locker room?'” Osabuohien said. “Because it wasn’t the team he was used to seeing. He came at us hard, which we knew to expect.”
West Virginia needed only 8:36 to exceed its entire first-half scoring total.
“They turned the heat up,” Martin said. “They went to both of their bigs. Whether their bigs scored or not, they had a great presence. They did a great job attacking downhill and putting pressure on our defense.”
By the numbers
West Virginia once again cut into its season-long turnover bugaboo, committing 11 against the Tigers. The Mountaineers had eight turnovers against Texas, and the back-to-back total of 19 is the lowest of the season for WVU… West Virginia was only 16 of 28 (57.1 percent) from the free-throw line, with Derek Culver’s 0-for-6 performance standing out for the wrong reasons… Missouri shot 28.3 percent from the field (15 of 53)… West Virginia dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Tigers by a 50-30 margin… With the win, West Virginia is now 2-5 all-time in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
West Virginia returns to Big 12 play with a trip to Texas Tech on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The Mountaineers beat the Red Raiders in Morgantown, 65-54, on Jan. 11.