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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Comeback Kids

Comeback Kids
By John Antonik for
January 8, 2006

VILLANOVA, Pa. – All those tough games West Virginia played in November are starting to pay off now. The No. 24-rated Mountaineers, an 11 1/2-point underdog, overcame a 15-point second-half deficit to stun previously undefeated and No. 3-ranked Villanova, 91-87, Sunday afternoon at the Pavilion in Villanova, Pa.

Villanova's Randy Foye grabs Mike Gansey of West Virginia during the second half of their NCAA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 8, 2006 in Villanova, Pa. West Virginia won, 91-87.
AP photo/Rusty Kennedy

“I was really uncomfortable about this game because I didn’t know the best way to attack them,” said West Virginia coach John Beilein. “We learned something from the first time we played them, but we really played together and hung in there.”

Joe Herber scored a career-high 23 points including 17 in the second half to lead West Virginia (10-3, 2-0) to its biggest road victory in school history. The No. 3 Wildcats are the highest ranked team the Mountaineers have beaten on the road and it’s the first time since beating No. 5 Temple, 64-61, in Philadelphia on Feb. 24, 1987 that a West Virginia team has downed a top 5-ranked team on the road.

West Virginia’s three other great victories against No. 1-ranked North Carolina in 1957, against No. 1-ranked Duke in 1966, and against No. 3-ranked Davidson in 1964 came at neutral sites. WVU’s win over Villanova followed a sluggish, 57-53 win on the road at South Florida last Thursday night to give the Mountaineers their first 2-0 start ever in Big East play.

Kevin Pittsnogle scored 22 points (16 in the second half) and Mike Gansey contributed 22 including two key free throws with 30.4 seconds remaining in the game to lead the Mountaineers.

The Wildcats (10-1, 1-1) led by 15, 52-37, early in the second half on a 3 by Mike Nardi and were taking control of the game. West Virginia answered with eight straight points to cut the lead to seven, 52-45. Pittsnogle started the run with a bucket in the paint and Gansey and Herber each followed with 3s.

Villanova built its lead back to 12 on a Foye 3-pointer before Frank Young hit a soft jumper in the key to reduce Villanova’s lead to 10, 59-49, at the 15-minute media timeout.

Trailing by 10, 66-56, West Virginia used a 13-6 run over a four-minute stretch to cut Villanova’s lead to three, 72-69, following a J.D. Collins driving lay up with 7:08 remaining.

Pittsnogle reduced Villanova’s lead to two on a long 3-pointer with 4:29 left and the Mountaineers eventually tied it at 76 on a pair of Herber free throws with at the 4:01 mark.

Young gave West Virginia its first lead of the second half on a short jumper in the paint, 78-76, and Mike Gansey turned a Nardi turnover into a driving lay up with 2:40 remaining to give West Virginia a four-point, 80-76 lead.

“The way we ended up spreading the floor it was almost a European style,” Beilein said. “Just like the Oklahoma game when people won’t hop off of Kevin, well, where’s the shot blocker? The shot blocker is outside and we tried to open the floor as much we could.”

Leading by five, 84-79 after a Herber lay up, Villanova cut West Virginia’s lead to three on a pair of Randy Foye free throws. Pittsnogle responded with a jump hook at the right block to put West Virginia back up by five, 86-81, but Foye hit another long 3 from the right corner to make it 86-84, West Virginia, with 36.1 seconds left.

A pair of Gansey free throws with 30.4 seconds remaining made it 88-84, but Nardi nailed his seventh 3 to pull the Wildcats to within one, 88-87. Two Herber free throws with 22.3 second left made it 90-87, and a Nardi turnover with 8.4 seconds remaining allowed Patrick Beilein to make it a two possession game by making one of two at the line.

“He made a big, big shot for us to put us up by four,” said Beilein. “I wouldn’t have liked to have defended them with 10 seconds to go and a 3-pointer (to tie).”

West Virginia made 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch and forced Villanova to commit 22 turnovers for the game.

“They had 22 turnovers but they also had 19 assists and we wanted to make sure that if they scored they also had someone in their face,” Beilein said.

The Wildcats had plenty of opportunities to blow out West Virginia in the first half, making 15 of 21 field-goal attempts for 72 percent to take a 46-37 lead into the locker room at halftime. Villanova cooled off somewhat in the second half, hitting 14 of 29 and finishing the game shooting 58 percent.

Villanova made 15 of 26 from 3-point range for 57.7 percent.

“Defensively they’re almost impossible to stop,” said Beilein. “Where is the weakness? Everybody can shoot.”

Foye led the Wildcats with 24 and Nardi added 23. Villanova had nine blocks.

“They blocked a lot of our shots but so what,” said Beilein. “Sometimes they blocked a shot and we ended up hitting a 3. Blocked shots aren’t the end of the world.”

The Mountaineers were 14 of 19 overall from the foul line.

“I’ve played against four national champions whether I was at Canisius, Richmond or here and (Villanova) has that type of coaching and that type of personnel,” said Beilein. “Now, in order for them to win (the national tournament) they’ve got to have some bounces of the ball.

“We’re very fortunate to come on the road here and get a W,” Beilein said.

West Virginia made 33 of 64 from the field including 11 of 22 from 3. Herber, Pittsnogle and Gansey combined to shoot 24 of 39 for 61.5 percent. The Mountaineers had a remarkable 27 assists. Frank Young also reached double figures for WVU with 11.

The last time West Virginia played at the Pavilion last season the Mountaineers lost by 38 points to Villanova. It was WVU’s fourth game against a nationally ranked team this year.

“It was almost like the scene of a crime when we walked in here yesterday for our shoot around,” said Beilein. “They all felt like victims and I was worried about that today. It was an eerie feeling walking in here but our kids came up big.”

The win was West Virginia's eighth straight since losing to LSU in Morgantown back on Nov. 26.

WVU has its Big East home opener on Wednesday, Jan. 11, against Georgetown at 7 pm. Fans can get a $5 discount on any remaining tickets by ordering them online through before Monday evening. This ticket promotion is being sponsored by Adelphia.

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