Since Bob Huggins took over the head coaching job at the University of West Virginia over eight years ago, the Mountaineers have been fatal at home for non-conference ranked teams and in the month of December. West Virginia fell just short of continuing those traditions against the No. 20 Gonzaga Bulldogs and in the process blew a chance to have a quality win on their resume.
The Mountaineers were up by four points at the half and expanded that lead in the second half to 10 points at the 16:10 mark. From that point on, Gonzaga outscored West Virginia 39-25 to take the 80-76 victory. This second-half collapse bucks a trend for the Mountaineers at home against non-conference ranked opponents.
West Virginia had won five consecutive games against ranked non-conference teams at home, and had won 51 of its last 52 games in the month of December under Huggins. Both of those streaks were ended by the Bulldogs, highlighted by the effort of Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski.
Karnowski, a sophomore Polish international student, recorded a double-double, giving the Mountaineers’ interior defense fits to the tune of 19 points and 13 rebounds. He also added a couple of blocks to his efficient game, going 6-of-11 from the field and 7-of-8 from the charity stripe.
Karnowski’s effort was enough to overcome the outstanding contributions West Virginia got from the three guards in its starting lineup. Eron Harris, Terry Henderson and Juwan Staten combined for 55 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists for the Mountaineers as the three played an average of 35 minutes.
Unfortunately for West Virginia, tonight was their best opportunity to get a win over a quality non-conference opponent left on their schedule. The Mountaineers have three games remaining before they begin Big 12 play, and the best of those three opponents is an unranked Purdue Boilermakers squad.
While West Virginia will have ample opportunity to build a tournament resume in conference play, they let a golden opportunity pass them by after letting this game slip away from them. The conference season will show whether this rare December loss against a non-conference ranked opponent was a fluke or a sign of bad things to come.