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Virginia coach, players seek to avenge last year’s West Virginia loss

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NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 18 Virginia Cavaliers face their biggest test of the year on Tuesday against the No. 19 West Virginia Mountaineers, a team that started the preseason at No. 11 in the AP Polls before falling down to No. 24 after a loss to No. 25 Texas A&M. Since then, the Mountaineers have cakewalked through their cupcake schedule to a 7-1 record.

Following the Lehigh game, head coach Tony Bennett and the team answered questions about their preparation for the Mountaineers.

“I’ll start looking into West Virginia now,” Bennett said in response to Virginia’s rigorous schedule over the past two weeks. “They’re tough, they’re good, I know they put a lot of pressure on you so it’ll be another test. And again, it is a different style. When you play in a league with as many styles and teams as the ACC, I think it’s good. We’ve seen different looks, we’ve seen small ball at VCU, we’ve seen Wisconsin. I think that’s important for us as we go forward.”

Bennett also called West Virginia’s Jevon Carter, a heck of a player. Carter leads the country in steals per game at 4.5, and is ranked No. 2 nationally by KenPom in steal percentage at 7.2.

Virginia point guard Kyle Guy says he “remember[s] the game very well.”

“They get after us and we’re just going to have to be stronger and take care of business.”

Virginia forward Isaiah Wilkins, on the other hand, only remembers the lowlights.

“I don’t really remember that much from that game. I just remember that we lost. I know that they’re a physical team, they’re going to get after us, and it’s at WVU. We have to be ready to play and we have got to be secure with the ball and strong with the ball.”

Transfer guard Nigel Johnson has the most exposure to West Virginia out of anyone on the Virginia roster, having faced them while playing for Kansas State, and has plenty of advice.

“I have played them four times, beat them twice and lost twice. I know exactly what they are going to do and that press style. Just stay patient, don’t let them overwhelm you.

“The trick for me for beating the press was to keep the ball in the middle. Do not let it get to the sides. When you get the ball on the sides, right near half court, that is when they really try to get a turnover. The trick for me was just to keep the ball in the middle.”

The Hoos and the Mountaineers have played in each of the last two years — last year in Charlottesville, and the year before in New York City as part of the Jimmy V Classic. This will be the first time since 1976 that the Hoos have gone to Morgantown.

“They get a little crazy in there,” Johnson said. But I mean, that’s what college basketball, and college sports, are all about. It makes it a lot more fun to play. Especially when they start getting loud, and somebody makes a big bucket, just to quiet them all down, it’s a great sound. It’s pretty fun to play in there.”

Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 5, on ESPNU. Stay tuned to StreakingtheLawn.com for all your coverage needs.