PITTSBURGH — West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has endured tougher losses than the 77-54 whipping Gonzaga dealt the Mountaineers on Thursday night.
He’s just not sure he’s had a more humbling one.
Dominated on both ends of the floor all night, West Virginia hardly looked inspired by the decided home-court advantage at Consol Energy Center. Listless nearly from the opening tip, the Mountaineers were handed their worst tournament defeat in a quarter century.
“I’ve never gotten beat like that,” Huggins said. “We just were never in the game. Shouldn’t say `never.’ Maybe a couple times. But not very well. I don’t know. Have to figure it out.”
Gonzaga gave Huggins the entire offseason to mull it over as the youth-laden Bulldogs heeded senior center Robert Sacre’s advice on how to play the bruising Mountaineers.
“Hit `em, is all you’ve got to say,” Sacre said. “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.”
Done and done.
Sacre and Gary Bell Jr. scored 14 points apiece for seventh-seeded Gonzaga (26-6), which will play Ohio State or Loyola (Md.) in the third round on Saturday.
Kevin Pangos added 13 points and five assists, and the fight the Bulldogs were expecting from the 10th-seeded Mountaineers (19-14) never materialized. West Virginia shot 32 percent (16 of 49) from the field and had no answer when Gonzaga went on a 13-0 run midway through the first half to break it open.
“This is the worst defensive team I’ve ever had in 30 years,” Huggins said. “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.”
And the Bulldogs did.
Playing the versatile, brainy style that’s become the program’s calling card during its 14-year NCAA tournament run, Gonzaga had little trouble despite the hostile environment.
Coach Mark Few worried his inexperienced roster would have trouble with the 2,200-mile journey from Spokane, Wash., and a crowed heavily tilted toward the Mountaineers, a short 75-mile bus trip from the arena.
Pangos wasted little time putting his coach’s fears — and his own — to rest. The freshman hit his first shot in NCAA tournament play and his second, a 3-pointer that gave Gonzaga the lead 90 seconds into the game. Bell added one of his own and Elias Harris quickly followed.
“I had jitters going into it, I’ll be honest,” Pangos said. “Once you get playing, it’s just the same game. It was easier. Everyone brought it on the court. It was a lot of fun, playing with the guys. Everyone did their part.”
Gary Browne led the Mountaineers with 15 points off the bench and Kevin Jones scored 13 in his final game for West Virginia. The defeat was WVU’s worst in the NCAA tournament since losing to Maryland by 25 in 1984.
“(Gonzaga) came out tougher, more aggressive, more energized than we were,” Jones said. “You see the result of it. They were the better team.”
On every inch of the floor.
Its offensive flow disrupted by Gonzaga’s in-your-jersey defense, West Virginia failed to play with any rhythm on either end. The Bulldogs bottled up Jones and were more than happy to let forward Deniz Kilicli and senior guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant try to beat them.
Bryant, playing in his sixth and final NCAA tournament game for the Mountaineers, couldn’t get going. He missed all five of his shots during a miserable first half and finished with nine points on 2-of-10 shooting while getting badly outplayed by Pangos and Bell.
“We just got out-toughed tonight,” Bryant said.
Kilicli included. The brutish center from Turkey said Wednesday he didn’t think the Bulldogs would be “prepared” to face a team as physical as West Virginia.
Gonzaga was more than ready and proved it during the final 12 minutes of the first half when it blew the game open. An acrobatic layup in traffic by Guy Landry Edi started a 13-0 burst that gave the Bulldogs a 27-10 lead.
The Mountaineers missed eight straight shots during the stretch and fell asleep on defense, a cardinal sin when you play for Huggins. During one sequence, Aaron Brown clanked a 3-pointer and then got caught watching — along with Bryant and Browne — as Edi streaked behind them and collected a long pass from Pangos for a dunk.
Huggins exploded out of his chair and called a timeout, but the Bulldogs kept right on going, taking a 40-22 lead at the break to cap a nearly flawless first half.
“We were getting open looks and we were just knocking them down,” Bell said.
The only real miscue came from sophomore point guard David Stockton, the son of Hall of Fame guard and Gonzaga alum John Stockton. Though the younger Stockton knocked down a 3-pointer during the game-turning run, he also airballed a free throw.
His father, sitting six rows behind the Gonzaga bench, stifled a laugh as his son shook his head, one of the few mistakes the Bulldogs made on a night they rolled into the round of 32.