The No. 11 Mountaineers, in a back and forth second half, pulled within one point three times, but could never push past No. 1 Connecticut. West Virginia (18-7, 9-3) has now lost three of its last four games after starting 17-4, its best beginning since 1998.
"We could never get over the hump," said Kevin Pittsnogle, who finished with 15 points. "When they had a chance to put us away, they made those shots. When we had a chance to get the lead or pull close, we would miss. That was the difference."
That, and UConn's dominance inside. It hit five dunks in its first six shots and continued the onslaught with a series of inside shots and dunks to take its largest lead, 53-45, with 14:31 left.
"They pretty much ate up (the 1-3-1 zone)," Herber said. "We had to get out of it again, and tried a lot of other things, like man, but they were just too good on the inside. It's frustrating, because we were close."
The senior forward's loss was more significant than he would admit. He left the game for extended periods – playing just 19 minutes – due to foul trouble, and that lack of a penetrate and score or kick player lulled WVU's offense and coused others to try and do too much.
West Virginia pulled within 59-58 on a Mike Gansey 3-pointer with 10:14 left. But the Mountaineers then had two bad offensive possessions, one a bad shot and another a long, early 3-pointer by Pittsnogle – one of his two bad shot selections – and was again down by six at 64-58.
"We missed chances," said Gansey, who scored a game-high 25 points, 15 on 3-pointers. "We played a good game, but didn't get that perfect effort we needed to win. They ust have great players, great inside players and a great point guard."
Indeed. Marcus Williams finished with 10 assists against one turnover. He also scored eight points in 36 minutes.
"We did things underneath today that we couldn't do against Villanova because of our point guard. He sees things underneath and makes plays most other guards can't," Hilton Armstrong said.
The Mountaineers trimmed an eight-point deficit to one on three occasions late in the game but never retook the lead. Anderson's 3-pointer with 4:10 left put the Huskies ahead 71-65. Pittsnogle then answered with a 3-pointer with 1:14 left to pull the Mountaineers within 75-72 before Anderson answered again from long range 21 seconds later and West Virginia never threatened again.
Connecticut (23-2, 10-2) took over sole possession of second place in the Big East from West Virginia. The Huskies are one-half game behind No. 4 Villanova, which hosts No. 17 Georgetown on Sunday.
WVU, conversely, will likely need at least two wins in its last four games to seal at least a fourth-place finish in the Big East. The top four teams get a first-round bye in the postseason tournament. It finished with games at Syracuse and Cincinnati and home contests with Louisville and Pitt.
Pittsnogle had 13 of his 15 in the second half. Jo Herber added 14 for the Mountaineers and Frank Young had 12, but missed a key layup early in the second half. Herber picked up his fourth foul soon after, and that changed the entire complex of the game.
Connecticut was led by Josh Boone's 18 points. Hilton Armstrong added 15, most on dunks, and Rudy Gay scored 14 and had five assists. J.D. Collins had five assists for WVU, but rushed two shots and made youthful mistakes – like a key turnover – that were unusual for the senior.
There were three ties and four lead changes in the first 22 points before WVU took its biggest lead of the half, 18-13 with 13:38 left, on a 7-2 push. Herber hit the Mountaineers' second 3-pointer of the game and added a layin to Collins' driving hoop.
Connecticut then scored 13 of the next 16 points to take a 26-21 edge at the 5:32 mark. It held West Virginia scoreless for 4:44. WVU managed just one field goal – a Patrick Beilein 3-pointer – from 13:38 until Gansey hit his second of three first half 3-pointers with 5:13 remaining. That brought WVU within two at 26-24, and the teams played almost evenly the rest of the way as UConn led 37-34 at the break.
The Huskies had a 24-14 edge in points in the paint by then. Five of UConn's first six baskets were dunks, one an alley-oop. It hit 16 of 29 shots (55.2 percent) to WVU's 13 of 29 effort (44.8). The Mountaineers had hit five of 15 3-pointers.
UConn held the Big East's worst rebounding team under 30 for the second straight year. West Virginia's 19 rebounds were a season low and the Mountaineers had just two on the offensive end.
"We came out trying to attack from the tip," Boone said. "Against a 1-3-1, teams usually try and stay out of the middle. We actually wanted to get in there and mix it up. Good things happen when the ball gets inside."
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said his team practiced against the 1-3-1 zone for three straight days.
"Our inside power is very difficult for most teams to handle," Calhoun said. "Today, we were able to get inside better than we did on Monday."
West Virginia hasn't beaten Connecticut since 1998, a span of six games. The Mountaineers hadn't played a top-ranked team since losing to UConn in 1999. UConn is 8-1 against ranked teams this season while West Virginia is 4-4, many of its defeats coming from its lack of inside defense.
"UConn gets easy baskets. It's very hard for us to get easy baskets," West Virginia coach John Beilein said. "They just throw it to the rim to somebody and they get it."
Herber became WVU's 43rd 1,000-point scorer on his free throw with 5:16 left. UConn scored on its next possession, then got two shots at the basket on its next series, scoring the second time on Anderson's 3-pointer that took a potential 68-65 UConn lead with WVU having the ball to a 71-65 Mountaineer deficit.
One might note official John Hughes seemed as in UConn's back pocket as was the laptop lifted by Marcus Williams. Hughes whistled Herber for what could be labeled ticky-tack fouls, one when it must back been a back muscle that flexed wrong on an over-the back rebounding gaffe. Hughes also turned his head on a UConn walk, which had to be called by Tim Higgins, and all three refs missed a blatant shove on Gansey when he was plowed out of bounds by Gay.
"I know I reach instinctively," Herber said. "But some of those should not have been called because they did not change the possession any. I blame myself, but some were tough."
WVU next plays at Syracuse on Monday as part of ESPN's Big Monday broadcast. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. The Orange, thought home, will be on shorter rest, as they play tonight.