MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—The new guys at West Virginia can now brag about doing the same thing last year’s NCAA tournament team did—beating UCLA.
Alex Ruoff scored 18 points and the Mountaineers made up for a lack of experience by taking a big lead and holding on for a 70-65 win over No. 2 UCLA on Saturday.
“We played with a chip on our shoulder,” Ruoff said. “Everybody hit big shots. That shows what kind of guys we have. It’s a dream come true to play here, at this school, and beat UCLA.”
Only four current West Virginia players saw action against UCLA last year, with Frank Young the only returning starter. The result was the same.
For the second straight season, UCLA (21-3, 10-2 Pac-10) couldn’t overcome a double-digit deficit against the Mountaineers (19-5, 7-4 Big East).
All three UCLA losses have come on the road. This was the first to a non-conference opponent.
“It’s always a different story on someone else’s court,” said Arron Afflalo, who led UCLA with 27 points and nine rebounds.
UCLA came to Morgantown for the first time and found out that West Virginia — with its rifle-toting mascot and antagonistic student section—is a tough place to play. The Mountaineers have lost just twice to non-conference opponents at home under fifth-year coach John Beilein.
“We knew they would come in and be a tough team,” Young said. “We wanted to match that intensity and let them know that they would be in a fight for 40 minutes by boxing out and keeping them off the boards. They got some putbacks in the second half, but for a full game we did a good job of matching their toughness.”
Without Darren Collison, UCLA’s third-leading scorer who hurt his left shoulder in a 5-point win over USC on Wednesday night, the Bruins didn’t score a basket over a 9:16 stretch spanning both halves and even got burned by West Virginia’s bench.
“They were down Collison, and he is one of the best guards in the country. I am sure that hurt,” Ruoff said. “They had to come across the country. But it’s UCLA. It’s a win over one of the best teams in the country.”
Seldom-used guard Ted Talkington, playing because of injuries to fellow backups Devan Bawinkel and Joe Mazzulla, hit a 3-pointer and another jumper 1:32 apart for West Virginia’s biggest lead, 47-28, with 14:17 left in the game.
“To allow them to go up 19 points dug a big hole for us,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland. “We took a couple questionable shots and that fed their fire.”
Things fell apart quickly for the Mountaineers, who went scoreless for more than five minutes while UCLA hunted down offensive rebounds and forced fouls in its first comeback.
Michael Roll’s 3-pointer capped a 15-0 run that pulled the Bruins within 47-43 with 9:19 left.
Ruoff hit a 3-pointer and a three-point play to put West Virginia ahead by 10 before Afflalo, 1-of-9 from the floor a year ago against the Mountaineers, scored eight straight points for UCLA and Shipp followed with four straight to bring the Bruins within 63-59 with 1:45 left.
That’s as close as the Bruins got. West Virginia sank 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute. Hundreds of gold-and-blue clad fans stormed the court and the loudspeakers blared John Denver’s “Country Roads” after the final buzzer.
“I was really pleased with the way we fought back,” Howland said. “Obviously it’s a long way to come to get beat.”
Young finished with 14 points and Butler had 13 for West Virginia.
West Virginia was held to a season-low 47 points in a double-digit loss Wednesday to No. 7 Pittsburgh—Howland’s former team. It marked the first time that the Mountaineers had hosted two top 10 opponents in the same week.
Freshman Da’Sean Butler sparked a 10-2 run with a 3-pointer and a lay-in midway through the first half, and West Virginia scored the final eight points of the half, capped by Butler’s 3-point play, for a 32-22 lead. It was the fewest points UCLA had scored in the first half this season.
West Virginia leads the series 3-1. All three previous meetings were in Los Angeles. Last season West Virginia nearly blew a 20-point lead before winning 60-56 on Mike Gansey’s 24-point performance.