Special to the Citizen
WASHINGTON D.C. – West Virginia coach Bob Huggins didn’t know what to expect heading into his team’s opening NCAA Tournament game against No. 10 seed Arizona.
“We rely on making jump shots,” Huggins said earlier this week. “When we don’t make jump shots, we’re not very good.”
Thursday night, the No. 7-seeded Mountaineers put their uncertainties behind them, shooting nearly 51 percent from the field and draining 11 three-pointers to send Arizona home, 75-65.
Four different Mountaineers reached double figures against a UA team that had been allowing opponents to shoot 43.9 percent from the field.
There was no stopping the talented quartet of Alex Ruoff, Joe Alexander, Darris Nichols and Da’Sean Butler, who combined for 68 points.
Nothing Arizona interim coach Kevin O’Neill threw at the Mountaineers’ offense could slow them down.
“We were able to make shots when we needed them,” said Nichols, who was 5 for 9 from the field. “We haven’t been hitting big shots when we needed to.”
The Wildcats managed to hold Alexander – WVU’s top scorer – in check early, but that freed up Butler, who got off to a hot start and finished with 19 points.
When O’Neill put Jerryd Bayless on Butler, Ruoff got into a groove. He sank five 3-pointers and had 21 points.
Ruoff said he knew from the beginning the Mountaineers could use the Wildcats’ defensive scheme to their advantage.
“Joe’s been on fire lately,” said Ruoff, who was perfect from beyond the arc until midway through the second half. “We knew the key tonight was going to be able to key off him and hit open shots.”
Nichols got in on the act in the second half, draining three treys and scoring 11 points over the final 20 minutes. In the end, even Alexander got his own, finishing with 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting. He was 6 for 6 from the free throw line.
“I think this is what our team is capable of doing all the time,” said Alexander, whose team sank 10 or more 3-pointers for the sixth time this season.
The Mountaineers move on to face No. 2-seeded Duke in the second round Saturday.
By the numbers
points by UA’s bench
3-pointers by WVU in 19 attempts, a 57.9 percentage.
points by Chase Budinger, his high in five games
rebounds by UA, four more than West Virginia