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Friday, December 23, 2005

Slicin' and Dicin'

Slicin' and Dicin'
By John Antonik for
December 22, 2005

    OKLAHOMA CITY – You’re lacking athletes at almost every position on the floor, the other team scores at will against you in the paint and you wind up beating the country’s seventh-ranked team by 24 points. It’s just another day at the office for John Beilein’s West Virginia Mountaineers.

    Darris Nichols (14) almost has the ball slapped away from him in The All-College Basketball Classic men's basketball action Thursday , Dec. 22, 2005, in Oklahoma City, Okla.
    AP Photo

    West Virginia once again defied logic by carving up Oklahoma, 92-68, Thursday night in the second game of the O’Reilly Auto Parts All-College Classic in Oklahoma City.

    Beilein, a man who usually has most of the answers, had difficulty explaining this one. “I don’t know what to think – I’m in a bit of shock right now,” Beilein said.

    West Virginia (7-3) came into the game looking for a signature win having lost tough non-conference games to Texas, Kentucky and LSU. It got one tonight behind the second-best shooting performance in school history and a precision offense that Beilein admits was in sync that he didn’t have to call a single play in the second half.

    “What happened with this team was in the second half we almost had no plays,” Beilein said. “He went zone on us and then he went match-up zone on us and it was like last March when they just played ball. They looked for where there were advantages and drove the ball and found each other.

    “That’s how we want to play – we don’t want to orchestrate the whole game,” Beilein added. “We want them to just have fun and play ball.”

    The Mountaineers made 32 of 48 field goal attempts for 66.7 percent. West Virginia hit 8 of 20 from 3-point range and was 20 of 23 from the free throw line. WVU held its own on the backboards by closing the rebounding gap to just six (28-22); Oklahoma came into the game out-rebounding its opponents by almost 16 boards per game.

    Kevin Pittsnogle had his way in his head-to-head match up against Oklahoma’s 270-pound center Kevin Bookout, scoring 25 points on 8 of 11 shooting. Pittsnogle was also 3 of 5 from 3. Bookout finished the game watching from the bench with just four points.

    At the start it looked like it was going to be Oklahoma enjoying a blowout victory. The Sooners jumped out to an 11-2 lead before West Virginia settled down and used a 13-4 run to tie the game at 15. The Mountaineers got their first lead at 20-17 on a three-point play by backup guard Darris Nichols.

    “They’re quick and physical and I think we had one or two turnovers of the six during that time,” said Beilein of West Virginia’s slow start. “It just seemed after the layoff we weren’t quite into it. But Kevin made a huge bank shot that crawled in the side of the basket.

    “I think Joe made a drive and then all of the sudden it was like, ‘Oh, we’re okay now,” Beilein said.

    A soft Frank Young jumper in the lane pushed WVU’s lead to five, 25-20, and the lead swelled to 10, 37-27, on a pair of Pittsnogle free throws. Oklahoma was able to pull to within seven at halftime, 41-34, on a pair of Taj Gray free throws.

    West Virginia came out in the second half scoring the first four points, and built its lead to 13 on a driving layup by Gansey to make it 49-36. The Mountaineers led by 13, 56-43, when Oklahoma made its run, scoring WVU 11-3 to pull to within five, 59-54. Gansey answered with a big bucket under the basket, and he added a big 3-pointer with 9:34 left to extend West Virginia’s lead back to eight, 64-56.

    Oklahoma center Taj Gray (21) shoots the ball, West Virginia center Kevin Pittsnogle looks on in the second half of The All-College Basketball Classic Thursday , Dec. 22, 2005, in Oklahoma City, Okla. Taj finish with 31 points and was the game's leading scorer.
    AP Photo

    “That was a huge 3,” Beilein admitted.

    The signature play of the game came after J.D. Collins was forced to call a timeout with 4:07 left and the Mountaineers leading by 13, 78-65. West Virginia ran the shot clock all the way down to one second before Joe Herber scored on a pretty backdoor cut.

    Herber finished the game with a career-high 21 points and also added five assists. Gansey scored 15 and Young added a season-high 14.

    Taj Gray led Oklahoma with a career-high 31 points. Michael Neal scored 16 points but failed to score a single point in the second half. West Virginia’s 92 points came against an Oklahoma defense that was giving up just 57 points per game.

    “(Oklahoma) basically scored off offensive boards and we can’t help that sometimes,” said Beilein. “They jump higher than us and they jump quicker than us. They just got those rebounds and made put-backs.”

    The victory was WVU’s largest against a nationally ranked team since defeated No. 24-ranked Temple by 30 (82-52) in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament. It is also the second-biggest win against a Top 10-ranked team in school history, falling one point shy of WVU’s 25-point win over No. 6-rated NYU on Jan. 3, 1952. It was West Virignia's fourth-straight 20-plus-point victory.

    “Yesterday was one of those practices where we were just sharp,” said Beilein. “Every cut was sharp, every pass was sharp and we just played so well together. It was how we left off last March.”

    Beilein passed Fred Schaus for second place with his 11th career win against a nationally ranked team and now only trails Gale Catlett with 21 wins over ranked teams. The triumph was West Virginia’s 50th all-time against nationally ranked teams.

    “We’ve played as good a basketball game as we’ve played in West Virginia uniforms against obviously a very good team,” Beilein said.

    Pittsnogle’s 25 points tonight moves him into 21st place on the school’s all-time scoring list, passing guard Chris Leonard (1,235 points). Pittsnogle now has 1,259 points.

    Oklahoma State beat Tennessee in the first game.

    “Hopefully in the long run if we can continue to win like this on the road it will make up for the Texas loss,” Beilein said. “It’s a good one for us, it’s a good one for the Big East, and I’m sure glad we came out of here with a win.”

    The Mountaineers have eight days off before facing Canisius at the WVU Coliseum on Friday, Dec. 30. The game will tip off at 7 pm.

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