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Rebounding will be a tall order for UB

Rebounding can be a combination of luck, hustle and desire.

The University at Buffalo men’s basketball team believes it has all of those traits. The Bulls will need each one come Friday, when they play West Virginia in their first-ever NCAA Tournament game.

The Mountaineers lead all of NCAA Division I men’s basketball with 16.8 offensive rebounds per game.

“I mean you look at the numbers and you see it, but then when you watch the tape, you see why,” UB coach Bobby Hurley said Tuesday. “They’re very athletic, they’re very thick and physical. They play a very physical style, and their coach is a very hard-nosed coach that has coached that way his entire career. His teams have always played tough. We’re going to have to be up for the challenge of that, the physicality of the game.”

Of course, that comes with a risk. UB goes only eight players deep, so avoiding the type of foul trouble that can sometimes come from battling for rebounds has to be a priority.

“We’re a pretty good rebounding team,” Hurley said. “We’ve got some guys that are big and athletic. It’s going to be the mental part of being disciplined enough to put a body on those guys and make sure you’re not trying to just get into a jumping contest with them, because they’re going to win that. We’ll drill on that and reinforce to the guys. It’s not only the responsibility of our interior players. It’s everyone. We’ll talk about five guys rebounding.”

Coach Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers average 36.8 total rebounds per game, which is tied for 57th in the country. But because the Mountaineers work the offensive glass so hard, they come away with extra possessions.

“You’ve got to make sure you box out and take care of your responsibilities before the ball gets off the rim,” UB senior Will Regan said. “I think we’ll be ready for the challenge.”

“We just have to have a defensive mindset,” UB junior Justin Moss said. “You’ve got to put a body on them. … Finish the defensive possession. Once you get that in your head, then you just go get it.”

As Hurley alluded to, the Bulls are a good rebounding team in their own right, pulling down 38.4 per game, which ranks 16th in the country. UB’s 12.9 offensive rebounds per game ranks 27th in Division I.

“My mindset with attacking the glass is not going to change,” said UB senior Xavier Ford, who averages 6.3 rebounds per game, second on the team behind Moss’ 9.3. “I’m just going to go get the ball. We’ve got a lot of good offensive rebounders.”

The Bulls have six players averaging at least three rebounds per game – Moss, Ford, Rodell Wigginton (4.3), Regan (4.2), Shannon Evans (3.2) and Jarryn Skeete (3.2). Freshman Lamonte Bearden averages 2.8 per game, which means that along with Evans and Skeete, the Bulls get 9.2 rebounds per game from their guards.

“It’ll definitely be a team effort,” Evans said. “They’re really big, really athletic, so it’s going to take me, Lamonte, Skeet, we’ve got to get in there and try to grab some boards as well.”

West Virginia has just two players who average more than three rebounds per game – 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Devin Williams (8.2) and 6-7 junior forward Jonathan Holton (6.0).

“I think we’ll be a good matchup,” said Moss, who was limited for a second straight practice Tuesday as he continues to get treatment on his sprained right ankle.

“It’s a lot better,” he said. “I’ve been getting treatment the past couple days. I plan to be 100 percent Friday.”

Hurley agreed with that assessment.

“He’s getting plenty of treatment, and he’ll have two really good solid days of practice leading into the game,” the coach said. “I’m happy that we’re playing on Friday. It gives us an extra day – particularly with him.”

Moss played 36 minutes in UB’s victory over Central Michigan in the Mid-American Conference Tournament final, finishing with a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds.

“He played his normal minutes, or even exceeding his minutes in the championship game,” Hurley said. “I think he’s making progress every day. … He knows his body better than I do, but I think we have a good plan in place getting him into the game.”

Hurley said the limited practice time isn’t a concern for the MAC Player of the Year.

“At this time of year, programs everywhere are very limited in their practice time anyway,” Hurley said. “Most teams aren’t practicing more than an hour and a half at this time of year, so Justin missing a day or two is not going to impact how he’s going to play. If anything, it’s going to give him a chance to heal. That’s the most important thing, just that he gets his explosiveness back as much as possible.”