Twice in its last five meetings with the No. 1 team in the country over the past five seasons, West Virginia has emerged with a victory.
The Mountaineers had a chance to make that three of six against No. 1s, when WVU had top-ranked Gonzaga on the ropes Wednesday night at the Jimmy V Classic. The Zags made a strong second half push, though, and pulled out an 87-82 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
“We’re definitely disappointed, and I’m especially disappointed in myself. I just couldn’t make shots or get my teammates involved like I should,” noted Mountaineer sophomore point guard Deuce McBride, who had 10 points at halftime but didn’t score in the second half, as he missed all six of his shots in that stretch. “I also gave up a few backcuts that I knew were coming. I know I’m better than that. It’s things like that that put teams on runs. We have to learn from this and get better.”
West Virginia seized a 39-34 halftime lead, as it held a decisive 24-19 advantage on the boards in the first 20 minutes. The Mountaineers turned their seven offensive rebounds into nine second-chance points, compared to six offensive rebounds that the Bulldogs converted into four second-chance points.
Thus the difference on the scoreboard with WVU’s five-point halftime lead.
West Virginia couldn’t continue that dominance on the glass in the second half, though, as GU fought WVU to a 27-27 draw on the boards in the final 20 minutes.
“I kind of felt like we plateaued the second half. We didn’t come out as aggressive as we did in the first,” said WVU forward Derek Culver, who posted his 16th career double-double, finishing with 18 points and 15 rebounds. “I feel like we got content with the lead that we had, and that carried over into the second half and we just got very nonchalant.”
Gonzaga equaled the Mountaineers in terms of rebounds in the second half, and the Zags also began looking like the No. 1 team in the land on the offensive end. West Virginia limited the Bulldogs to just 13 made field goals on 35 attempts in the first half (37%), but in the second half, GU was much more efficient at 21 of 34 (62%) in outscoring WVU 53-43 in the period.
Meanwhile West Virginia’s offense never found that same upper gear. It made 38% of its field goal attempts in both the first half (13 of 34) and the second (12 of 32).
Defensively, the Mountaineers were hurt by Gonzaga’s transition game and GU’s points off backcuts and ball screens.
The Zags got 60 of their 87 points in the paint, and 25 of those came from fast break opportunities. Meanwhile WVU was limited to just 30 points in the paint and only four fast break points.
“We knew they were a transition team, and we didn’t get back on defense,” admitted McBride, as WVU recorded just two steals on the night. “Obviously some days shots fall and some days they don’t. That’s why we have to guard all the time. That’s the biggest thing. If we’re not going to make shots, we have to guard consistently.”
Ranked No. 11 in the country and now with a 3-1 record, the Mountaineers went toe-to-toe with the nation’s top ranked team, which is 3-0 on the young season. But WVU was not in this for a moral victory, as it came up short in key moments and in key categories.
“Gonzaga is a very good team, but we had them today; I’m not going to lie,” said Culver. “I’ll put the blame on myself. There were a couple of times where I had the ball, and blindside help came and knocked the ball out of my hands.
“The thing that makes me mad is they didn’t show us anything we hadn’t seen,” the junior continued. “We just shot ourselves in the foot, to be honest with you.”
WVU will look for redemption in its next game, which is slated for Sunday afternoon (4:30 p.m. on FS1) at Georgetown. The Hoyas are currently 1-1 after a 70-62 win over UMBC and a 78-71 loss to Navy.