West Virginia entered Wednesday night's road game at Villanova needing to add a solid road victory to its NCAA tournament resume. After all was said and done, many were still waiting for the Mountaineers to show up.
Villanova took advantage of a sub-par WVU effort and rode a decisive edge in intensity, execution, hustle and will to a laughable 78-56 blowout win at The Pavilion in Philadelphia in a game that was never in doubt, nor as close as the final score indicated.
On a night in which the sky above was adorned with a lunar eclipse, West Virginia looked to be lost in space. The Mountaineers were unsettled on both ends early, starting the game 0-5 from the field, and getting beat down the floor twice for transition buckets early. Villanova guard Dwayne Anderson was left wide open twice for three-point shots, both of which splashed through the net with ease. Anderson's second three was greeted with a Bob Huggins timeout as the head coach searched for something to ignite his team.
Joe Alexander's bank shot at the 16:23 mark finally broke West Virginia's field goal drought, but even just four minutes into the game it seemed too little too late for the Mountaineers. West Virginia began 1-6 from the field, and turned the ball over three times in the opening four minutes less than a week after committing just four turnovers in all against Rutgers.
Perhaps the best summation of the first half came on a play in which Villanova's Malcolm Grant missed a short jumper with four Mountaineer players battling under the rim for the rebound. The lone Wildcat battling for the board grabbed it, and fired the ball out to a wide-open Corey Stokes, who calmly sank a step-in three to give Nova a 19-point lead. Stokes, averaging less than four points per game heading into the tilt with WVU, had tied his previous career-high of 13 points prior to the final media timeout of the first half.
"They wanted it more than we did, and I hate to hear that because sometimes that's not the case," Huggins said. "It was just as evident as could be from the beginning of the game. It's my fault, because I thought they were ready. It's my fault because I'm in charge. We've got to find a way to fix it."
The scary part for the Mountaineers? Villanova did all of this without the services of all-Big East guard Scottie Reynolds, who spent a majority of the first half on the bench with two personal fouls. With no Mountaineer defender even in the same area code as Anderson, though, it didn't matter. After scoring 11 of his team's first 13 points, Anderson continued his first half hot streak, finishing the opening frame with 17 points on 5-6 shooting, all from beyond the three-point arc.
In building their 45-21 halftime lead, the Wildcats scored 16 points off of West Virginia turnovers, and went 10-10 from the foul line. Nova was 14-28 from the field, including 7-14 from downtown. By comparison, the Mountaineers were just 9-27 from the field, including an abysmal 0-11 from downtown.
"I didn't think we had bad shots," said Huggins. "I thought we had pretty good shots."
Unfortunately for Huggins and his team, few fell.
Darris Nichols drilled a three from the corner at the 18:44 mark of the second half to end the oh-fer, but Nova's offense continued to roll, this time with Reynolds back on the floor. After being held scoreless in the first half, the sophomore tallied nine points in the second half as the Villanova lead ballooned to as much as 28 points.
While the Wildcats were not quite as impressive in the final frame as they were in the opening 20 minutes, there was no need to be. The same ice-cold shooting which has plagued West Virginia in recent Big East losses to Cincinnati and at Pitt was prevalent again in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Mountaineers finished just 21-59 from the floor, for 35 percent which included a paltry 2-20 from three-point range. West Virginia was also just 12-20 from the foul line, but did manage 32 points in the paint, many of which came in garbage time with the outcome never in doubt. Joe Mazzulla scored 11 points in 30 minutes, and also collected five rebounds to lead the Mountaineers. Joe Alexander also added 11 points, but turned the ball over four times. Da'Sean Butler scored 10 second-half points to finish in double-figures. Sophomore forward Wellington Smith continued his recent growth with eight points and seven rebounds off the West Virginia bench.
Villanova, meanwhile, was an impressive 24-51 from the floor, including a blistering 10-23 from downtown. To add insult to injury, the Wildcats were 20-23 from the foul line. Anderson did not score in the second half, but finished with a game-high 17 nonetheless. Stokes finished with a career-best 16 points. Antonio Pena also finished in double-figures for Nova, which had six players finish with at least eight points.
"We let them gain confidence," Huggins noted. "When you have wide, wide, wide open threes, then you make a couple.
"We went the whole game and didn't get an easy (basket)," he continued. "Your choices, really, are this: you can sit around here and feel sorry for yourselves because it's our fault, we can't blame anybody else. Or, we can go out and try to do something about it on Saturday and next week."
West Virginia returns home to face Providence on Saturday night at 7:00, but does so with wounded hopes of an NCAA bid, with a March 1 game at Connecticut possibly being a must-win.