NCAA Tournament: Gonzaga too much for WVU, advances
PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't about the long distance Gonzaga traveled to reach its NCAA Tournament opener Thursday in West Virginia's backyard.
It was more about the long distance the Zags' shots traveled early in the game. And that was just for starters.
Gonzaga's early 3-point marksmanship set the tone, but that and much more sent the Mountaineers packing quickly for a 2011-12 season-ending trip home down I-79.
In the final game for seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant and the school's last game as a Big East Conference member, WVU was routed 77-54 in an East Region second-round game at Consol Energy Center.
Seventh-seeded Gonzaga (26-6), which has won 11 of its last 14 games, moved on to face region second seed and No. 7 Ohio State (28-7) here Saturday.
West Virginia (19-14) finished with the most losses for a Bob Huggins-coached team since his first Cincinnati club, in 1990-91, went 20-14.
"This is the worst defensive team I've ever had in 30 years," Huggins said after his team was riddled at both ends of the floor. "We don't get the help, we don't get the loose balls. We don't do the things we've done for years and years and years.
"They shoot 56 percent, that's never happened. You've been around. That's never, ever happened. No matter how well somebody played, it never happened.
"A lot of it is because we're so inept offensively. They get breakouts. We throw the ball around, throw the ball to them. That adds to it."
It was the second-worst loss in Huggins' 47 NCAA Tournament games as coach, trailing only a 92-68 Cincinnati defeat to Illinois in the 2004 second round.
It was WVU's biggest NCAA thumping since a 102-77 second-round debacle against Maryland in 1984 at Birmingham, Ala.
Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos nearly matched his per-game scoring average with a 13-point half. He didn't score after halftime, but by the finish four Bulldogs were double-figure scorers.
Guard Gary Browne led WVU scoring with 15 off-the-bench points.
Huggins gave freshman forward Aaron Brown his first career start - "looking for somebody to make a shot," the WVU coach said. Brown was 1-of-14 in 14 minutes.
Guard Truck Bryant, who also finished his WVU career on a sour note, had an 0-of-5 first half and finished 2-of-10 and with nine points.
"Yeah, there was always a feeling of frustration throughout the whole game," said WVU senior Kevin Jones, the Big East scoring and rebounding season leader whose career ended with a 13-point, four-rebound night. "It was definitely desperation during the second half. We were down by so many points.
"We weren't playing defense. They came out tougher, more aggressive, more energized than we were. You see the result of it. They were the better team."
Jones' four rebounds were a season low. When his teammates couldn't hit shots, the Bulldogs doubled and triple-teamed him the closer he got to the basket. He said the Zags took the game to the Mountaineers throughout.
"I think we knew they were going to come out aggressive just by the way they were talking before the game, very aggressive and tough-minded," Jones said. "They stayed that way throughout the whole game. That's something that we didn't do.
"They played better team basketball than we did. That really helped them. They shared the ball. They found open guys, and the guys made shots."
Gonzaga's 7-foot senior, Robert Sacre agreed.
"Hit 'em, is all you got to say" Sacre said when asked what advice he had for the younger Bulldogs who were playing in their first NCAA Tournament game. "Hit 'em, be physical, let everything else work itself out. As long as you're physical, that's all that matters. Show that Gonzaga's not soft."
The 10th-seeded Mountaineers endured many of the same offensive struggles that dogged them in losing eight of their last 12 games entering a fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance under Huggins.
The marksmanship was woeful from the field (6-of-26 in the decisive first half, including 1-of-10 behind the arc), not much better from the free throw stripe.
WVU shot only a .327 percentage after .231 in the first half.
Gonzaga played with smarts, efficiency and offensive balance, plus the West Coast Conference runner-up made three 3-pointers in the first four minutes and five 3s in the first 12 minutes.
From a 14-10 lead, Gonzaga went on a 13-0 run for a 17-point bulge. WVU went nine possessions without scoring in a six-minute span. Less than 17 minutes into the game, WVU trailed by 20, at 34-14.
"We stuck with our core man-to-man defense," Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said of that stretch of utter frustration for his opponent. "We were making plays in the lanes. We were making it tough for Jones to get a lot of space, and also Bryant, we really kind of keyed in on those guys.
"When we did get stops, we were able to push the ball. We're best when we're pushing the ball, getting opportunity baskets."
In addition, the Mountaineers, who had been out-rebounded in only three of 32 games entering the tournament, were being beaten on the glass in the first half, only exacerbating their shooting woes and defensive breakdowns.
It didn't get any better in the second half, although the rebounds finished even, 31-31.
"We talked about we wanted to be the toughest team," said Few, who is now 2-0 in NCAA Tournament early round games against Huggins. "Anytime you face a Coach Huggins team, you know they're going to be tough, you know they're going to be physical. We knew we couldn't back down from that.
"It started and ended with the rebounding. They're a phenomenal offensive rebounding team and we did a great job of keeping them off that pretty much all night. They got some there at the end, but I think that was probably the biggest difference in the game. I thought we matched their physicality."
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at email@example.com or 304-348-7949.