PITTSBURGH – West Virginia dug itself a big first half hole it couldn’t climb out of and lost 77-54 to seventh-seeded Gonzaga in an NCAA tournament second round game in Pittsburgh Thursday night.
Robert Sacre and Gary Bell Jr. led four double-figure scorers with 14 points each, while Kevin Pangos had 13 and Elias Harris added 10 for the Bulldogs, who shot 56 percent from the floor for the game.
“That was just a great opening game for us,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “I’m so proud of our players. We executed our offensive game plan, our defensive game plan and now it’s time to move on.”
“I just felt like they out-toughed us today,” added West Virginia senior guard Truck Bryant. “We let them get going and by the time we could stop them it was too late.”
The thousands of Mountaineer fans who made the short trip up to Pittsburgh had little to cheer about. West Virginia (19-14) fell behind by 20 during an eight-minute stretch in the first half that saw the Bulldogs outscore West Virginia 18-4 from 11:35 to 3:19. WVU missed six consecutive shots before Kevin Jones converted a layup with 6:22 left to end an 11-0 Bulldogs run. But then Gary Bell Jr. answered with a jumper, followed by a Pangos 3 and a Robert Sacre put-back basket to make it 34-14.
After Deniz Kilicli hit a short jumper to begin the second half for the Mountaineers, Gonzaga continued to score from virtually anywhere it wanted on the floor.
“There are 30-some tapes on us so you figure that they’re going to double K.J. You can’t play two on five and that’s pretty much what we did,” said a dejected West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who sat at the dais during his post-game press conference with his hand on his face while his seniors answered questions.
Three plays really summed up the evening for the Mountaineers. The first came early in the second half when Bryant tried to score against four Gonzaga players, lost the ball, and it ended up in a breakaway dunk by Guy Landry Edi. A couple minutes later, Elias Harris banked in a 3 from the top of the key to give the Bulldogs a 26-point lead.
Then, with six minutes to play, Sam Dower missed a layup with the shot clock winding down. Mike Hart was able to come up with the loose ball and dribbled back behind the 3-point line to knock down a fall-away 3 before the shot clock expired.
West Virginia shot 36.7 percent from the floor, including 3 of 17 from 3-point distance. Gonzaga (26-6) had its biggest lead at 26 points with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
“They ran good offense,” said Huggins. “Mark said that’s the best they’ve shot the ball all year. We tried to do a good job scouting. You can’t let guys who want to drive right, drive right. You have to make them uncomfortable. Everybody has tendencies and you have to try and take them away.”
It was the second worst loss in NCAA tournament play by a Bob Huggins coached team. When Huggins was at Cincinnati his Bearcats lost by 24 to Illinois in 2004. It was also West Virginia’s worst loss in the tournament since 1984 when Maryland beat the Mountaineers by 25 in a second round game in Birmingham, Ala.
“I’ve never been beat like that,” said Huggins.
The loss ended West Virginia’s season with 19 victories, snapping a streak of eight straight campaigns with at least 20 wins. It was also the fewest wins a Bob Huggins coached team has had since 2003 when his Cincinnati team won 17 games.
“This is the worst defensive team I’ve had in 30 years,” said Huggins. “We don’t get to help and we don’t get loose balls.”
The one bright spot for the Mountaineers was the play of freshman Gary Browne, who scored a season-high 15 points, going 10 of 11 from the line. Jones ended his fabulous career with 13 points and four rebounds.
“I’d say that was one of the best jobs a team has done surrounding me with team defense,” said Jones.
“Our key was to keep him off the offensive glass,” said Sacre.
Jones finished with 1,822 points, good for fifth all time in school history, and 1,048 rebounds to end fourth in school annals.
“I think most importantly, Kevin Jones is as good a person as I’ve ever been around in my life,” said Huggins. “He’s made such great strides as a player because he works and he listens to what he needs to do. He cares. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Kilicli contributed 10 points.
Gonzaga will play the winner of Ohio State-Loyola on Saturday.