Hot Start, Defense Lead WVU Past Villanova

The Big East schedule isn't proving much harder than the non-conference portion for No. 25 West Virginia.

Frank Young scored a career-high 25 points and matched a WVU Coliseum record with eight of the Mountaineers' 15 3-pointers to lead WVU to its second straight Big East win and seventh overall Wednesday. A game after it surprised No. 9 Connecticut on Saturday, West Virginia (12-1, 2-0 Big East) again used its trademark offense and a 1-3-1 zone to build a 22-point halftime lead and hold on for a 67-56 win over Villanova. The Mountaineers, picked 12th in the 16-team league in the preseason after losing four starters, have already beaten two teams selected ahead of them

"I don't think it is anything right now," WVU head coach John Beilein said. "We have just played a schedule condusive to winning early. It worked out that way."

WVU had three players in double figures, including Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff with 16 and 11 points, respectively. Young, whose eight 3-pointers were also a career high, matched the arena's record of eight 3-pointers set last season by Mike Gansey in a Jan. 14 win over Marquette.

It almost wasn't enough. After West Virginia scored 23 points in the final five minutes of the first half, it managed just 21 in the latter 20 minutes. Villanova switched from a faulty outside attack – it had hit just three 3-pointers in 13 attempts at the break – to an inside game featuring Curtis Sumpter, the Big East's second-leading scorer (19.7). The smaller Mountaineers began to wilt under the assault, during which Sumpter scored 14 of the first 26 Villanova points in the second half. The Wildcat offensive spurt translated to defense, where it held West Virginia to just six points in the first 12:12 of the second half to help cut the lead to 52-42 with 8:21 left.

Sumpter, the Big East's second-leading scorer, made 16 of his 21 points in the second half. He scored on four of the next five Villanova possessions in the critical stretch. But Young sandwiched his final two 3-pointers around an Alexander three as West Virginia kept pace.

"I was feeling good out there, and I think it got Villanova rattled a little bit," Young said. "My teammates did a good job getting me the ball. They knew I was shooting pretty well."

WVU sealed the game on Darris Nichols' long jumper for a 63-52 lead with 1:47 left. It hit four free throws down the stretch.

"It's a great thing for us to learn," Beilein said. "We got very tentative. I could tell by the first two passes in the second half. They went back. We didn't want to attack anymore."

West Virginia likely would have lost this game last season. All but six of its 21 second-half points came by the 3-pointer, and it had two scoreless stretches of more than five minutes. But its increased athleticism and defensive prowess – it leads the nation in scoring defense at 51.2 points per game – allowed it to hold on by limiting the Wildcats, despite the rally, to their lowest point total of the season.

"I am not saying we are the Secretary of Defense," Beilein said. "We are not there yet, but we are still working on it. I was very frustrated at times, but we found a way to win. We had to fight through some adversity. We had not faced much adversity, and we needed that."

West Virginia also served Villanova its worst shooting performance from the field all year, at 32.8 percent. The Wildcats missed its first nine shots of the game and did not score until five minutes in, then scored just 10 points in the first eight minutes of the second half in losing on the road for the first time in six games this season.

"Defensively, they are just so long and much better than last year," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. "They have a young team that can play so cohesively. I was shocked at our offense in the first half."

Mike Nardi added 12 points for Villanova, which had 16 turnovers that led to 21 West Virginia points. The Wildcats did have a 20 to six edge in points in the paint, but much of it came too late, especially for a team that must find new identity after using a four-guard set last season. It plays three of its first four Big East games on the road, and has lost three in a row to WVU. Villanova has not beaten the Mountaineers in Morgantown in eight years now. The 12-1 start marks the second time in three years WVU has won 12 of its first 13 games.

West Virginia originally built an 18-8 lead with Young hitting four 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes. Villanova pulled within 23-20 with five minutes remaining in the first half. By then, it had taken the Mountaineers 13-plus minutes to score its first 23 points of the half. It's next 23 came in less than five. WVU hit four 3-pointers in five shots as part of a 23-4 run that finished the half. The blitzkrieg of outside shooting gave West Virginia 10 threes by the half, as many as it had in five total games this season.

"I don't think we are a bad team; I think we're a really good team that looked bad tonight," Wright said. "The first half told the story. They executed really well. We were just living on the edge there."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories