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January 19, 2013

Game 18: West Virginia

When Purdue signed on for this series of games against West Virginia, it did so for the competition and style of play it knew Bob Huggins would present.

"No doubt that win or lose you're going to be a better basketball team after playing a Bob Huggins team," Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

That, Painter hopes, will remains the case in the third installment of the four-game series. Purdue will go back to Morgantown next season, then, the Boilermaker coach hopes, extend the series even further into the future.

Purdue will want to benefit from this West Virginia game by maintaining the upward trajectory that has it riding a two-game winning streak and sitting at 3-2 in the Big Ten.

The Mountaineers are 8-8 and 1-3 in the Big 12 in their first season in the league, but their record might be deceiving. West Virginia has lost a slew of close games, most recently a 65-64 loss at ranked Kansas State and a 69-67 loss to Iowa State, which is now 12-4.

West Virginia is known for its toughness and physicality, a challenge Purdue will try to embrace Saturday.

"We played them when I was a freshman (in Morgantown) and they gave us a whooping," junior guard Terone Johnson said. "They play really strong, they play really hard and they play really tough and that's something Coach has really been stressing.

"They're going to play hard every possession and we have to do the same thing."

Especially on the interior.

"We can't get bullied," center A.J. Hammons said. "Just don't get punked in the first half.

"I'm ready to bump back and I know the guards and everybody else is ready to bump back. I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes."

Projected Lineups
G: Terone Johnson
G: Ronnie Johnson
F: D.J. Byrd
F: Rapheal Davis
C: A.J. Hammons

West Virginia
G: Jabarie Hinds (5-11, 185, So.)
G: Eron Harris (6-2, 190, Fr.)
G: Gary Browne (6-1, 190, So.)
F: Dominique Rutledge (6-8 245, Sr.)
C: Kevin Noreen (6-10, 250, So.)
West Virginia's led in scoring by guard Juwan Staten at 10.3 points per game, but his status has been hit and miss the past few games for undisclosed reasons. He didn't play at Kansas State and didn't start vs. Iowa State. “Everybody’s got to be on the same page, and if everybody isn’t on the same page you don’t have a very good team,” Huggins told the MetroNews of West Virginia this week. “We all make mistakes. We’ve got two days of practice before Iowa State, and we’ll see where everything is and what happens from there.” … Freshman guard Eron Harris is from Lawrence North in Indianapolis, where he was a teammate last season of Purdue recruit Basil Smotherman. … center Aaric Murray, for the season, is the Mountaineers' second-leading scorer and top rebounder at 10 points and 7.1 rebounds, but he's only started one of West Virginia's four conference games. He's been prone to fouling, getting whistled 15 times in just 87 minutes the past four games, including four in 10 minutes against Iowa State … Clearly pushing buttons, Huggins has been highly critical of his post players of late and has made comments about playing "small" against Purdue. We'll see about that.
About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

About West Virginia: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Broadcast Info
Game time: 2 p.m.
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."

Things to think about

1. How will Purdue play? After experiencing some success in back-to-back wins playing small lineups, can it do the same against West Virginia, which will have the option of playing groupings rich in size and bulk?

"I think it can go both ways," Painter said. "They’ve done a little bit of both. But he has had some games in the last couple weeks they’ve played small and had some success with it. Any time you have a team who has the ability to do both, you have to prepare for both."

Will Purdue go small to try to create offensive advantages? If it does, can it survive on the boards? And if Purdue goes big, will it matter all that much in the rebounding column?

Is Huggins really going to go away from his big men and run the risk of getting out-rebounded and not matching up with Hammons?

One thing is certain: If Purdue goes big, it needs Jacob Lawson and Donnie Hale - the Boilermakers' "big" 4 men - to produce.

2. If Purdue is fortunate enough to build a lead, will it show progress in protecting it? That has been a liability all season for the Boilermakers and it surfaced again at Nebraska, where a 20-point lead was trimmed to a half dozen in what seemed like an instant, with turnovers and rebounding lapses being at the crux of it.

3. Ronnie Johnson is playing well lately. The Boilermaker point guard's scored in double-figures three games running now with 16 assists during that span. He has seven turnovers the past three games, but that's still a better than 2-to-1 ratio. He's also averaging five rebounds per game and showed signs of life at the foul line against Nebraska, making 4-of-5. While he's certainly not a finished product yet, the erratic play of earlier this season has faded with experience.

4. In the past seven games, Hammons is averaging 13 points, 7.3 rebounds and three blocked shots, 11 of those in the past two games.

He's been better in Big Ten play than he was in non-conference.

Given the size West Virginia will be able to put on the floor - if Huggins can stomach it - then Hammons might be particularly important against West Virginia.

5. Purdue's playing pretty decent lately, allowing a respectable 63.4 points per game through five Big Ten games, though its past two opponents are now a combined 0-10 in the league.

Purdue's been particularly effective in the half court, underscoring the need to keep opponents out of transition and off the offensive glass.

GoldandBlack.com Prediction: West Virginia's tough. Bob Huggins' teams always are. And don't be fooled by that 8-8 record. West Virginia has lost close games to mostly pretty good teams. Purdue will have to scratch and claw for this one, but we like its chances to run its winning streak to three and get to two games over .500 for the first time this season.

Purdue 67, West Virginia 62

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