MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia hosted UAB Saturday evening for a basketball game at the WVU Coliseum. Instead, it got a physical prize fight between two hungry teams,
The Mountaineers (8-2) triumphed over the Blazers (7-2) 81-70 in a rematch of last season’s physical matchup in Birmingham. Bob Huggins squared off against former assistant Andy Kennedy for the fourth time, maintaining an undefeated record against the Blazer coach.
The Blazers introduced physicality in the first minute after Eric Gaines opened the game with an open dunk. UAB racked up two fouls in the first 31 seconds, one of which nearly took Matthews out for the game when he came down awkwardly after jumping to catch a pass.
Matthews returned to the game six minutes later and quickly heated up, making his first three shot attempts, all of which came from behind the arc. He finished with 16 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
“I don’t think physicality is going to bother this group at all,” Huggins said.
Scoring wasn’t easy for the rest of WVU, nor was it for UAB. Both teams shot below 50 percent from the field as they battled through tough defensive play that sometimes got testy. Nine fouls were called against each team in the first half, including a pair of technical fouls that offset.
At halftime, WVU led by nine after riding a four-point run into the break.
WVU opened the game up more in the second half as it figured out how to penetrate UAB’s full-court zone. Again, though, the game was largely decided from the free throw line as 44 fouls were called between the two teams.
The Mountaineers had the luxury of drawing mostly shooting fouls and went to the charity stripe for 25 free throw attempts, converting on 22 of them. UAB was 11 of 18 from the line.
WVU’s defense especially made the Blazers struggle as it swarmed to generate 19 turnovers. 11 of those came in the first half.
UAB’s defense bothered the Mountaineers as well, but not to that same extent. The Blazers smothered WVU leading scorer Erik Stevenson for much of the game as the sharpshooting guard battled foul trouble. He entered halftime without any points and didn’t register a field goal until less than 12 minutes were left in the game. Stevenson finished with eight points, six of which came from the free throw line.
“He’s on the bench cheering. He made a few mistakes,” Huggins said. “I’m trying to get him to be more of a guard. We need another guard, and he’s played off the ball so much in his career that I need to get him so that we have that third guy.”
Four Mountaineers finished in double figures, led by Kedrian Johnson, who attacked the rim and added 17 points. Tre Mitchell added 13 points, as well as seven rebounds and four assists, while Joe Toussaint chipped in 12 points.
Jimmy Bell Jr. was a force for WVU inside, shooting a perfect 4-for-4 to record eight points. He also grabbed six rebounds.
Reigning Conference USA Player of the Year Jordan Walker paced the game with 19 points, matching the point total with big man Javian Davis. KJ Buffen was an efficient asset for the Blazers, adding 11 points.
Matthews was playing at full speed after his first-half injury scare. He had an ice pack on his leg after the game but did not answer questions regarding his knee.
“He wants to be here. He wants to be here and certainly wants to be a part of what we get done here,” Huggins said. “He has really shot the ball well, and he has shot the ball much better than what he shot it before. He spent a lot of time fixing things with it. When it looked like they were about ready to make a run, he’s the guy who made big shots for us.”
The Mountaineers get the week off before continuing their homestand next weekend. WVU next hosts Buffalo on Dec. 18; tip-off is set for 5 p.m. ET.