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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Defending national champion Connecticut came to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this week hoping to get an idea of what it needed to work on to be in a position to defend its title.
It left without another trophy, but with a very clear idea that it needs more work to make another deep run in March.
The No. 17 Huskies (3-1) had a season-high 19 turnovers and never led in the game as they fell 78-68 to former Big East Rival West Virginia in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Ryan Boatright led the Huskies (3-1) with 17 points. Daniel Hamilton added 15 points and 11 rebounds. But Hamilton also led the team with eight turnovers, which Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said will be a point of focus going forward.
"They did a real good job pressuring us," Ollie said. "We had some bad turnovers...that we were trying not to have. All of our guys are going to learn from this."
Juwan Staten had 23 points and West Virginia (5-0) held off several second-half runs by the Huskies.
Jonathan Holton and Daxter Miles, Jr. added 10 points each.
"I've got my kind of guys again," Huggins said. "I've got guys that are just going to keep swinging, you know? These two freshmen (Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr.) are special freshmen. You just don't find freshmen that have the courage to take the shots that those guys take."
Staten was named the tournament Most Valuable Player. Teammate Devin Williams also joined him on the all-tournament team.
Staten said the team didn't start working on their full court pressure until a few days prior to the tournament. Huggins said it's a little sporadic and in need of fine tuning, but Staten and his teammates like the pace it creates.
"Coaches have us pumped up from the start of the season just letting us know that we're a special team and that we really have a chance to do something special," Staten said.
Boatright and Hamilton also made the all-tournament team, along with Dayton's Jordan Siebert and George Mason's Shevon Thompson.
The Mountaineers led by 15 in the first half and managed to counter several mini-runs by the Huskies in the second half.
Connecticut got it down to 50-44 on a basket by Hamilton. But a steal and layup by Gary Browne silenced the Huskies fans and set up a period that saw Connecticut score just one field go over about a 5 minute span.
After The Huskies cut the lead to 64-54 with 6:15 to play, Browne again came up big with a 3-pointer.
The Huskies make the Mountaineers pay for extending their defensive pressure full court, getting easy dunks on the other end. More often, though, it was Connecticut that seemed to come unglued on the offensive end after expending energy to attack West Virginia's pressure.
West Virginia went to its pressure early, forcing 10 first-half turnovers, and turning them in 14 points on the other end on the way to a 47-32 halftime lead.
The Mountaineers got easy looks at the basket in the period, scoring 20 points in the paint, while holding the Huskies to 2 for 11 from the 3-point line.
Connecticut: The Huskies didn't help their cause at the free throw line where they were just 9 for 18. The also continued a Tip-Off trend of no eventual champion having trailed at halftime of the title game.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers finished with 11 steals. They also had 14 assists and their 28 field goals.
For Mountaineers coach Bobby Huggins, Sunday's win offered a bit of redemption in Puerto Rico. Huggins coached West Virginia to the Tip-Off championship game in 2010, losing to Minnesota.
The Huskies host Texas on Nov. 30. The Huskies host Texas on Nov. 30. West Virginia next plays VMI on Wednesday on a neutral court in Charleston, W.Va.