GAME NOTES: The 10th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers will go head-to-head with the West Virginia Mountaineers on Wednesday night with the Cancun Challenge title on the line at the Aventura Palace Convention Center.
The Mountaineers forced their way past Old Dominion in Tuesday's semifinals to punch their ticket to Wednesday's title bout. The win over the Monarchs was the fourth straight for West Virginia, which is sporting a 5-1 overall mark on the young season.
Seven games in and the Badgers have yet to take a loss. In the semifinals on Tuesday night Wisconsin defended its highest national ranking in two years with a hard-fought, 63-57, triumph over a strong Saint Louis squad. The 7-0 start for the Badgers is their best opening to a season since going 11-0 to kick off the 1993-94 campaign.
It has been quite some time since these teams last matched up. The most recent meeting was in 1973 when Wisconsin earned its second win in three all-time contests with the Mountaineers by a 69-52 final.
The Badgers led by as many as 15 points in the second half against Saint Louis, but had that lead slashed to five before closing out the victory down the stretch. Both teams had 21 field goals and four 3-pointrs in the contest but a 17-11 edge from the free-throw line for the Badgers proved to be the difference.
Wisconsin has been a very efficient offensive squad this season, netting 49.1 percent of their shots from the floor including a 44.1 percent effort from beyond the arc. Frank Kaminsky (16.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) took the nation by storm when he poured in 43 points a week ago. Kaminsky hasn't been that prolific in the last three games but he extended his streak of games in double figures to five. Kaminsky has had plenty of help in the scoring department with four other players averaging in double figures. Sam Dekker (13.7 ppg) and Traevon Jackson (12.3 ppg) can score around the basket and from 3-point range, while Ben Brust (11.0 ppg) is more reliant on shots from beyond the arc.
Simply put, West Virginia was just a better shooting team on Tuesday night against Old Dominion. The Mountaineers hot on 56 percent of the shots from the floor, including an 8-of-19 effort from beyond the arc. Eron Harris led the way in the victory, with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Harris (20.2 ppg) is an effective scorer from anywhere on the floor. He is netting 50 percent of his field goal attempts this season, including a 17- of-34 performance from beyond the arc. While Harris is more of a pure shooter, Juwan Staten (18.2 ppg, 7.8 apg) is the real playmaker with his ability to score as well as distribute. Staten nearly recorded a double-double against the Monarchs as he dropped in 13 points and dished out nine assists. Devin Williams (11.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg) is the anchor on the interior for the Mountaineers. In all West Virginia is netting 87 points per game, while shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
The Badgers are a steady offensive team that makes few mistakes and controls tempo on the defensive end. Harris and Staten will struggle against the tough Wisconsin defense and the Badgers should move to 8-0.