Too Little, Too Late

Connecticut flatly denied West Virginia its marquee win in a 79-71 victory Saturday.

The No. 15 Huskies dominated WVU in every facet for the vast majority of the game, jumping to a double-digit lead midway through the opening half and holding off a late charge by the Mountaineers. A.J. Price scored 24 points, including a series of drives and 3-pointers that keyed first-half runs to provide an eventual 17-point edge that proved too difficult to overcome. Joe Alexander had a career-high 32 points and 10 rebounds for West Virginia and was denied another two because of a missed goaltending call on Hasheem Thabeet. That came when WVU closed to single digits only to allow a closing 13-8 push by the Huskies that sealed the game.

UConn shot 63 percent in the opening period, when it took a 42-29 lead into the break that seemed like much more. After trailing early, Connecticut put together runs of 13-5 and 14-2 to take a 37-21 edge with 4:42 remaining. Price nailed a pair of threes in the first push, then finished the second run with a quick-release bomb from the top of the key over West Virginia's Alex Ruoff. The junior nailed his first two treys to open the second half, giving him five of six makes from beyond the arc, part of UConn's seven-of-10 start from deep.

Price's threes boosted the lead to 49-33 just minutes into the second half, and the romp seemed on from there. WVU seemed defenseless early against the onslaught on interior ability and transition quickness. When they finally found a physical streak, the Mountaineers began to put together their lone offensive push of the game. Trailing 54-37 midway through the second half, West Virginia went on a 26-12 run that pulled it within 66-63 with approximately four minutes left. It got no closer, however, as Connecticut extended the lead shortly following the no-call on the goaltend.

"We just didn't do a very good job in the first half. To me, it is similar to what happened at Tennessee," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. "I am not sure we come out with the idea that we could win. We were really tentative and did not attack them. We didn't do what we were supposed to early, then got it turned around. I told them that was the most talented team in our league, no question for man-to-man. And we are sting in there saying that if we play both halves we won.

"I think the mentality is starting to change that we can and should win on the road. I don't understand that mentality and have never understood that mentality. Then here they come and it was ‘Wow, these guys are as good as they are supposed to be.'"

The Mountaineers would have been in significantly better position to rally had they not been routinely outran and outhustled in the early going. They compounded the issue by forcing some shots and refusing to take open looks. Wellington Smith and Jamie Smalligan passed up open threes, while Alexander once took fadeaway shots on four consecutive possessions, just one of one was converted. It led to too deep of a hole and a loss that will do nothing for the NCAA Tournament resume' despite the comeback. The defeat left WVU (20-9, 9-7 Big East) needing a pair of wins in its final two games versus Pitt and St. John's to remain in the majority of projected brackets.

"We play on Monday and I think if we get two wins I am not nervous sitting there on Selection Sunday," Huggins said. "Honestly, eight now it is not about anybody else. It is about us. If we go out and do what we need to do and win two games, I am not nervous on Selection Sunday."

WVU outscored UConn 42-37 in the second half and had advantages in nearly every category. Ruoff scored 12 points and John Flowers came off the bench to score nine and grab three rebounds in addition to providing an important intense streak and defensive demeanor. Jeff Adrien had 12 points for Connecticut ((23-6, 12-4) and Craig Austrie and Stanley Robinson chipped in 12 apiece. Thabeet was held to just two.

The loss dropped West Virginia to 0-7 all-time at Connecticut, which has won 12 of its last 13 games. The Huskies, 14-1 at home with a lone loss to Providence, now lead the series 12-3 all-time.

West Virginia has just one day to ready itself for the home finale' against rival Pitt, which knocked off the Mountaineers 55-54 on a Ronald Ramon last-second 3-pointer in the first meeting. The Panthers rallied from down 11 in the final three-plus minutes at Syracuse to beat the Orange on Saturday. The emotional win should bolster Pitt in a must-win game for WVU if it doesn't desire a forced Big East run to make the NCAAs.

"I guess the good thing is we don't have a whole lot of time to worry about this one," Huggins said. "We have to get ready for Pitt."


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