West Virginia passed its opening round test in the NCAA Tournament with a 75-65 win over outmatched Arizona of the Pac-10.
Leading the way was junior guard Alex Ruoff, one of just a few Mountaineers with previous NCAA experience. As a freshman, Ruoff played sparingly in WVU's 2006 run to the Sweet 16. On Thursday night in Washington D.C., the long-range bomber regained his shooting stroke in leading the Mountaineers to the first round win.
Ruoff scored a team-high 21 points for West Virginia on a blistering eight-of-11 performance from the field. Included in that total were five three-pointers in seven attempts as Ruoff set the pace for a big night from behind the arc for WVU.
Consistent performances over the past several weeks from forwards Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler put West Virginia into the NCAA Tournament. On Thursday, Ruoff's marksmanship and return to form from a late-season slump vaulted the Mountaineers to the second round.
With Alexander again being the focal point of the opposing defense, Butler picked up the slack early and often in the Mountaineer frontcourt. The silky-smooth sophomore showed a variety of moves off the dribble and in the post, while also keeping the Wildcats in check from the perimeter.
The Newark, N.J. product finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Bob Huggins has talked all year about how young his team is, but on Thursday, the Mountaineers played like seasoned veterans against 'Zona. Anytime the Wildcats made a run, West Virginia responded with poise, be it a three by Ruoff or Nichols, or a mid-range jumper from Butler or Alexander. At the end of the night, the scoreboard showed what had been apparent all game: West Virginia was the better team, and by a significant margin.
Defensively, West Virginia controlled the pace of the game and seldom if ever let the Wildcats rev up their vaunted transition game. Too, the Mountaineers did a very good job on Arizona freshman guard Jerryd Bayless, a potential Top 5 pick in June's NBA Draft should he choose to come out. WVU held Bayless to just four-of-10 from the field for 11 points.