December 03, 2014

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has been encouraged by what he's seen from his frontcourt, especially senior transfer Jonathan Holton.

He expects a major test for Holton and his bigs Thursday night as the 16th-ranked Mountaineers host LSU in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Off to the best start since opening with 11 straight wins in its 2009-10 Final Four season, West Virginia (7-0) has outrebounded five of its first seven opponents. The Mountaineers, who had a rebounding advantage in only two of their first seven games last season, lead the nation with an average of 20.7 offensive boards.

Six-foot-9 sophomore forward Devin Williams averages a team-high 8.4 rebounds and the 6-7 Holton is at 8.0 per game.

Holton had a season-high 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting and 10 rebounds in Saturday's 86-57 win over the College of Charleston.

''He's just scratching the surface of what he can be," Huggins said.

While Huggins envisions big things from Holton, a matchup with the Tigers' Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin presents a difficult challenge. The 6-8 Mickey averages 17.5 points and 10.0 rebounds and the 6-10 Martin averages 15.9 points and 8.7 boards.

"It's going to be a high-level, athletic basketball game," Huggins said. "Their front-line is as athletic as anybody we are going to play all year. Maybe not quite as big as Texas but every bit as athletic or more.

"They play elbows above the rim so it's going to be a very high-level, athletic, fun-to-watch (game) and hopefully everybody leaves here happy. It's going to be a great resume win for us if we can pull it out."

Huggins' pressure defense has also keyed the team's fast start, with West Virginia averaging 13.9 steals and forcing 23.1 turnovers per game. The hope is the press can frustrate the Tigers and force them to make mistakes.

"We want to speed them up and get them to rush their passes or throw bad lobs," Huggins said on his weekly call-in show. "We're not going to fare well in a 51-49 game against those guys. We've got to get cheap buckets."

LSU (5-2) had some trouble with Massachusetts' press on Tuesday, but pulled away for an 82-60 win. The Tigers overcame a season-high 19 turnovers by shooting 53.8 percent and outscoring the Minutemen 52-36 in the paint.

"Offensively, I thought we were as fine-tuned as we've played all year long by sharing the ball, being balanced, scoring, attacking, getting the ball to the open people and making the right reads," LSU coach Johnny Jones said.

Junior transfer Josh Gray had a breakout performance with a season-high 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting after averaging 8.0 points on 37.1 percent shooting in his previous four contests. He averaged 34.7 points at Odessa (Tex.) College last season.

"Josh is a big part of our team. He is able to get to the basket whenever he wants to. He makes good plays at the basket, and he is a smart player," Mickey said. "With Josh being able to get to the goal, it helps the team out."

The Tigers are 4-0 in Baton Rouge but 1-2 away from home, losing to Old Dominion and Clemson in last week's Virgin Islands Paradise Jam. They've lost 14 straight road games against ranked foes since beating No. 13 West Virginia 71-68 in overtime in 2005, evening the all-time series at 1-all.

The Mountaineers have gone 51-3 at home against unranked non-conference opponents since that defeat.

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