DARIUS JOHNSON-ODOM INTERVIEW
Three straight wins to conclude the regular season should give West Virginia some momentum to begin defense of its Big East tournament title.
The sixth-seeded and No. 20 Mountaineers look to build on their recent success while trying to avenge an earlier loss to Marquette on Wednesday night in a second-round matchup at Madison Square Garden in New York.
After some inconsistent play for most of the Big East season, West Virginia (20-10) might be hitting its stride after home victories over Connecticut and Louisville to close out the regular season with five wins in seven games.
The Mountaineers have done it with defense of late, holding their last three opponents to 60.0 points per game on 37.3 percent shooting.
Any momentum earned from that surge should give the Mountaineers confidence in their attempt to become the first school to win consecutive Big East tournament titles since Syracuse in 2005-2006.
Based on the strength of the conference this season, accomplishing that feat will be a challenge. However, the only looking ahead the Mountaineers should be doing is to Wednesday's contest.
Though the teams have split their last six meetings, West Virginia lost 79-74 at Marquette on New Year's Day.
"West Virginia is a good team and a great offensive rebounding team," Marquette forward Jimmy Butler said. "We have to rest up and get ready to compete. The tougher team is going to win. We have to go out there and make it a dog fight."
Not only should Marquette (19-13) have confidence from that victory, but it could feel a bit relieved after beating Providence 87-66 in Tuesday's first round to move closer to becoming the 11th Big East team likely to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
Darius Johnson-Odom scored 23 points and Butler added 19 with 10 rebounds for the 11th-seeded Golden Eagles, who finished the regular season with two straight losses.
"I think we need to continue to win," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. "The win helps. Obviously it doesn't hurt. Does it ensure we're in the NCAA tournament? I don't know. I know we played as well as we have played in a while."
After going a combined 39.6 percent from the field in defeats to Cincinnati and Seton Hall, Marquette bounced back to score the first 17 points and shoot 47.1 percent against Providence.
Jae Crowder scored 29 points and Johnson-Odom had 21 as Marquette shot 52.6 percent against West Virginia earlier this season.
Butler had 10 points in that contest, but has averaged 23.0 the last three games.
Truck Bryant, who scored 25 at Marquette, sank a pair of key throws with 1 second left in West Virginia's 72-70 win over Louisville on Saturday. Kevin Jones had 25 points with 16 rebounds to help the Mountaineers secure their fourth consecutive 20-win season.
West Virginia's recent success could be attributed to Jones, who has averaged 17.3 points and 12.3 rebounds the last three games.
"I'm just being more aggressive," Jones said. "I'm playing more worry-free. I'm just going out there playing the way I know how to play."
Jones has totaled 35 points his last two games versus Marquette, including 17 in January.
The winner faces No. 3 seed and 14th-ranked Louisville in the quarterfinals Thursday.