Deonta Vaughn scored 18 points and Cincinnati held West Virginia to its worst shooting percentage in school history in a 62-39 win Wednesday. The Bearcats' stifling man defense and interior dominance forced West Virginia away from the basket to limit the Mountaineers to 20 percent from the field. It was among the worst shooting performances ever for any team under Huggins, in his initial season at West Virginia after coaching UC for 16 seasons and winning 399 games.
"We were able to hold them to one shot, which was a key," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who was an assistant under Huggins at UC. "They don't have big guys, they are not the most athletic team on the front line and they're not the strongest team. In Big East play, it's tough."
That served as an awakening for West Virginia, among the hottest teams in the league until recent setbacks against Georgetown and Cincinnati, which won for just the fourth time since joining the conference in 2005. UC led 34-23 at the break after jumping out to a 21-7 lead midway through the half. It started hot, drilling three consecutive treys to start the game. After a pair of drives and a third straight lay-up, the Bearcats held a 15-5 lead with less than 12 minutes left. Da'Sean Butler finally snapped the eight-plus minute field goal drought with a lay-in, but that would be the final WVU bucket until Joe Mazzulla's steal and lay-up with 7:28 remaining in the half. Cincinnati was ahead 21-12 by then, and would extend that to the 11-point edge by the end of the first 20 minutes. Only Darris Nichols' 10 of 10 performance from the foul line kept the game in doubt.
The Bearcats held West Virginia without a field goal for more than eight minutes as the Mountaineers missed 12 of their initial 13 shots. WVU failed to convert any of its first 11 threes – part of a season-worst 25 percent effort from the floor – while UC made five of 10 in the period, part of 50 percent shooting overall. It also established an 22-13 dominance on the boards that led to a 47-26 edge overall.
Cincinnati finished the game with an early 14-3 run in the second half to blow the game open at 50-29 with 10 minutes remaining. The Mountaineers never got closer than 16 afterward as it continued to settle for threes. It took Jonnie West's long two-point jumper at the end of the game to stay out of the teens in terms of shooting. It was by far the worst overall game from WVU in more than a decade. The low point came when Butler air balled a 3-pointer and Ruoff followed that up one possession later with a missed lay-up. Marcus Sikes then nailed a three for a 58-37 UC lead with 3:22 left. West Virginia (15-6, 4-4 Big East) never got closer than 16 afterward in its most lopsided loss in three-plus seasons. It was just two points off setting a 37-year record for low score.
"We are not tough enough," Huggins said. "I've had teams before that couldn't shoot, but we rebounded it. It looked like men playing against boys."
It was West Virginia's worst home loss since No. 11 Boston College beat it 96-65 on March 3, 2001. It was the worst home defeat to a non-ranked foe since Jan. 2, 1930, when Nebraska beat WVU 45-19. The Mountaineers' previous field goal percentage low was 23.1 percent, against Maryland in 1951. That was the initial season in which shooting percentage stats were kept for every game.
"We're bigger and stronger, and that's just the facts," Cronin said. "I think it showed tonight. They missed six free throws and 40 shots – that's 46 missed and they only had six offensive rebounds. Obviously West Virginia didn't play its best, which probably added to the final score. It was a big win for us, though."
John Williamson added 11 points for Cincinnati (10-11, 5-4). Nichols scored a team-best 17 points for West Virginia, which made just four field goals in the second half and missed 21 of 22 threes despite being the Big East leader in threes per game. The Mountaineers routinely hurried shots and never found the offensive rhythm that had allowed them to rank first in the Big East in scoring margin.
Joe Alexander missed all nine of his shots from the floor in starting for the first time in four games after aggravating a groin injury versus St. John's. Alex Ruoff, who had scored 21 and 23 points, respectively, in the last two meetings between the teams, missed six of seven and all five from behind the arc. He also forced shots in an effort to rally against a team that, in this contest, would have none of it on either end. Cincinnati, in advancing to 4-17 in its Big East road history, finished with a 22-10 edge in points in the paint, a 17-8 advantage in second chance points and a 19-6 point differential off the bench.
"They beat us every ay possible," Huggins said. "Who are we going to beat scoring 39 points? We're just not tough enough."