MORGANTOWN - If West Virginia University is going to win its second straight Big East championship title, the Mountaineers will have to play one more contest than it did in winning the 2010 crown.
WVU (20-10, 11-7 Big East) earned the No. 6 seed for this week's tournament thanks to back-to-back-to-back wins over Rutgers (65-54), Connecticut (65-56) and Louisville (72-70) to end the regular season. As a result, West Virginia earned Wednesday off from the league's five-day event being contested at Madison Square Garden.
The Mountaineers' opponent in today's 9 p.m. quarterfinal round will be Marquette (18-13, 9-9 Big East), which dealt the old gold and blue one of its seven conference setbacks when the Eagles captured a 79-74 victory at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wis., back on Jan. 1.
With Marquette leading, 75-74, a Jae Crowder steal at the top of the key with 35 seconds left led to an intentional foul by Casey Mitchell. Crowder sank one of the two charity tosses and Jimmy Butler added another to give the Golden Eagles a 77-74 lead.
Two more Butler free throws following a missed two-point shot by Truck Bryant with 13 seconds left enabled Marquette to come away with the five-point victory.
West Virginia opened the game by falling behind by a 9-0 score. It trailed by 11, 28-17, with 5:57 remaining until the intermission, but went on an 11-2 run to cut Marquette's advantage to three, 37-34, at halftime.
Six times the Mountaineers would tie the score against the conference rivals in the second half and 10 other times the lead would change hands between the two squads. WVU's biggest lead was four, 57-53, following a Bryant triple with 11:05 showing on the clock.
West Virginia's last lead came with 1:48 left in the game when Bryant, who finished with a team-high 25 points, hit a driving layup to give the Mountaineers a 74-73 lead.
Marquette, which picked up its first conference win of the season with the victory, took the lead for good on a Chris Otule's stick-back dunk following a missed triple by Dwight Buycks.
Once again West Virginia was beaten decisively on the glass (34-24) and also allowed its opponent to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor. Marquette was also 14 of 21 from the free throw line while WVU got to the line only seven times, making all seven.
Head coach Bobby Huggins is expected to go with the same starting lineup that has helped the Mountaineers win four of their last five games.
Senior Joe Mazzulla, who scored only four points while coming off of the bench at Marquette, and Bryant (10.9 ppg) will start at the guards. The forward slots will be manned by seniors John Flowers (9.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), who is second in the Big East in blocked shots, Cam Thoroughman (2.6) and junior Kevin Jones (13.1, 7.4).
Also look for Mitchell, the team's leading scorer at 14.3 points per outing, sophomores Deniz Kilicli (6.7) and Dalton Pepper (3.8) as well as senior Jonnie West (3.0) to see action.
Jones came away with 17 points in the loss at Marquette while Kilicli and Mitchell chipped in with 14 points apiece.
Marquette, which holds a 5-4 series edge against WVU, will counter with Crowder, who scored a team-high 29 points in the Golden Eagles' win on New Year's Day, and Bulter at the forwards with Otule manning the center.
The guards will be Buycks and Darius Johnson-Odom, who hit 8-of-15 shots and finished with 21 points against the Mountaineers in their only other meeting of the season.