Strategy Huggins will use to try to ruin Calipari’s perfect season

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 26 Maret 2015 | 18.18

CLEVELAND — The siren was swirling, ringing through the streets of Pittsburgh, and Bob Huggins was in the back of an ambulance, closer to death than the hospital 22 minutes away.

In and out of consciousness after collapsing on a sidewalk outside the airport, the Cincinnati coach was told he would be fine, but when Huggins overheard the estimated arrival time on the radio in the midst of his heart attack, he told the paramedics he wouldn't make it that long.

"Abort! Abort! Abort!" Huggins heard as the ambulance detoured to a different hospital, with the words playfully relayed to him next assuring him he really would be fine.

"Coach, listen, I can't let you die," the paramedic said. "I'm John Calipari's cousin and you can't die until we beat you at least once."

Calipari, one of the first people to visit Huggins at the hospital after the 2002 incident, has since defeated his longtime friend — whom he has known since Calipari was in high school — but no one holds a better record against the Kentucky coach than Huggins.

Entering Thursday night's Midwest Region semifinal against the No. 1 Wildcats (36-0) at Quicken Loans Arena, the West Virginia coach has won eight of 10 head-to-head battles against Calipari, though seven of the victories came before either coach was at his current school.

Calipari and Kentucky defeated the Mountaineers in the third round of the NCAA Tournament in 2011, but Huggins earned the more memorable win, knocking off John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and the No. 1 Wildcats the previous year to reach the Final Four.

Knowing how different this undefeated Kentucky juggernaut is from any team Calipari has ever coached, Huggins hoped the Wildcats would start the game as they did five years ago.

"If Cal promises to miss his first 20 3's like they did in 2010, that would help if we could get him to do that," Huggins said Wednesday.

With a less-talented team than the 2 seed he coached in 2010, Huggins has rebuilt and reconfigured West Virginia, altering his philosophies to align with his players' strengths. The No. 5 Mountaineers (25-9) struggle in their half-court offense, but are deep and athletic, prompting Huggins to employ 40 minutes of full-court pressure, even on missed shots.

The new system has been an instant success, with the team leading the nation in steals and forcing nearly 20 turnovers per game. In their third round win over Maryland, the Mountaineers relentless pressure terrorizing the Terrapins into 23 turnovers.

"He's doing stuff this year I've not seen him do and that tells you the kind of coach he is," Calipari said. "He looked at his team and he said, 'Hey, we're going to have to play a little different.' They're creating havoc, they're taking you out of your offense, they're creating opportunities for tough shots or turnovers. They're playing very physical, they're coming in and letting you know it's going to be body to body, you had better be ready.

"They've got talent, but he's got them believing, which is special."

But how long will the belief last? Even the teams that haven't bowed down to Kentucky have seen all optimism eventually wither away, with the Wildcats' depth and size too much for anyone to match.

Facing an opponent with greater length at every position, Huggins is curious, uncertain if the Wildcats will just scoff at West Virginia's pressure, easily break it and enjoy a 40-minute layup line.

The coach acknowledged if the press fails, the team will, too, but the Mountaineers don't see the invincible opponent everyone else sees.

They see a bunch of freshmen and sophomores as susceptible to pressure as anyone else in the world.

"Why wouldn't it [work?]" asked senior guard Juwan Staten. "We've been playing this way all year [and] we've had success against everybody no matter what style or what type of players they have."

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