Cutting It Close

It seemed like an echo of WVU's last visit to a storied basketball venue. The Mountaineers jumped out to a big lead, then weathered a scoring drought of Sahara Desert proportions before getting a big defensive play from Mike Gansey to secure the win.

The first of these two games came last weekend against UCLA, when Gansey thwarted UCLA's chance to tie the game by picking Jordan Farmar in the backcourt to preserve WVU's win. Sunday against St. John's, Gansey repeated the performace by stealing a Daryll Hill pass in the lane while the Mountaineers were leading by just two.

Gansey's heroics were neccessitated in part by West Virginia's shaky free throw shooting down the stretch. From the point at which WVU led 59-48, the Mountaineers went 3-9 from the line, which helped the home standing Red Storm cut the lead to 62-60. However, Gansey, who had just seconds earlier missed two freebies himself, made the huge defensive play that gave West Virginia the extra chance it needed. Gansey, who was immediately fouled, dropped in his next two chances, then made two more after St. John's made one of two with five seconds to play.

"That was a great win to get," a hoarse head coach John Beilien said after the game. "I sense we are tired still. We willed it defensively, but offensively I don't know if we had the same pep in our legs. But if we make the front end of the one and ones it's a moot point."

West Virginia was in control for three-fourths of the game, and appeared on its way to a relatively easy road win. WVU regained its shooting touch, canning eight three-pointers in the opening half as it moved out to a 36-25 halftime lead. Led by Frank Young's three treys, West Virginia bombed away, often from NBA range, against the tough Red Storm defense. The Mountaineers also showed some defensive mettle of its own, keeping St. John's from getting many clean looks at the basket.

"I thought our defense was absolutely terrfic," Beilein said enthusiastically. "We had a lot of energy. I thought we got a lot of loose balls, and we created 21 turnovers. I thought our defense was the difference in the game."

That may have been even more true in the second half, although WVU did give up more points in that period. While WVU was scored just 12 points in the final 11 minutes of the game (with four of those coming in the last five seconds), it did not allow St. John's to put on many huge scoring rushes. The Red Storm was forced to chip away at WVU's lead, and while it did get into within two points before Gansey's steal, was unable to make the final plays it needed to steal the win.

Kevin Pittsnogle at least partially shook off his shooting slump by recording a team-high 19 points, including three treys. The last, when he picked up a loose ball and drilled a 22-foot dagger, was West Virginia's last field goal of the game, and helped stem an 8-0 St. John's run. He also continued to flex his muscle on the defensive end, snaring eight rebounds.

Mike Gansey added 15 points and four boards, and Frank Young totalled 11, along with five rebounds. That was pretty much it for WVU's efforts on the glass, as St. John's ran up a 49-25 edge on the boards.

"This is probably as wide a rebounding margin that you can have and still win the game," said Beilein. "But we shoot 37% from three and force 21 turnovers. There are other ways to get possessions."

With the win, WVU remains undefeated on the road, as its only four losses have come at neutral sites (three) and at home (one). West Virginia also maintained its one-half game lead in the Big East conference, moving to 6-0 in the league.

The Mountaineers, now 15-4 overall, return home for a two-game stand against Notre Dame (Wednesday) and Cincinnati (Saturday). Both games are sold out.

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