MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia saved some of its best basketball of the season for the very end of it.
There was just one problem with that. As was the case most of this winter, the Mountaineers' timing was way off. Their best was preceded immediately by some of their worst.
Looking every bit like the team that will almost certainly finish with the second-most losses in school history, West Virginia did nothing right for 25 minutes Saturday, falling behind by a whopping 27 points against Iowa State at the Coliseum.
So when they put together a scintillating stretch of nearly 15 minutes to close the game, it wasn't enough to avoid an 83-74 loss.
"If we'd started the way we played the second half, I think we would have beaten them by 15 points,'' said Deniz Kilicli, who played his final home game in front of a crowd of 9,413. "But we started out like we didn't know they could shoot. That's what they do.''
Indeed, the most prolific 3-point shooting team in the country did what it does best. Iowa State made eight first-half 3s in building a 44-20 lead and then stretched the margin to as many as 27 points.
As was the case in the game between the teams earlier this season in Ames, Iowa, West Virginia's rally wasn't enough.
The loss was the sixth consecutive for West Virginia (13-18, 6-12 Big 12), which hadn't lost that many in a row since Gale Catlett's last team in 2001-02 fell in nine straight games twice while stumbling to an 8-20 record. It is also the first time in coach Bob Huggins' career that he has lost six in a row at any level, including his days at Walsh College of the NAIA.
The defeat also means that West Virginia's next loss will tie it for the second most in school history with the 10-19 team of 1998-99. The only team that lost more was that 2002 squad.
Iowa State (21-10, 11-7), meanwhile, won only its fourth road game of the season, but the Cyclones still appear to be safely into the NCAA tournament field.
How West Virginia managed to dig itself into such a deep hole was no mystery. As was the case so many times this season, the Mountaineers allowed an opponent to do what it does best. In Iowa State's case, that's shooting 3-pointers. It was what propelled the Cyclones to leads of 13-3, 36-16, 44-20 at halftime and 55-28 just over four minutes into the second half.
By day's end, ISU had made 14 of its 23 3-point attempts.
"We acted like we didn't know they could shoot,'' Huggins said. "We didn't guard them.''
As a result, Korie Lucious made five 3s and scored 21 points. Chris Babb and Georges Niang each made three 3s. Will Clyburn was about the only Cyclone who wasn't hitting his 3s (1 of 4), but he made up for it with free throws and going inside for a game-high 27 points.
But as was the case in that earlier game between the teams, when WVU erased an 18-point deficit in the final nine minutes before losing on a basket at the buzzer, the Mountaineers turned things around.
Jabarie Hinds began WVU's comeback with back-to-back 3-pointers. The Mountaineers trimmed the lead to 14, 55-41, with a 13-0 run, but ISU got a couple of 3s to halt the run.
The Cyclones led 70-53 when West Virginia began making its last push, starting with a Matt Humphrey 3-pointer. A Terry Henderson 3 made it 70-63 with 5:31 to play and it was down to a six-point deficit a few moments later.
"We didn't run offense in the first half,'' Huggins said. "We started running offense and we made some shots.''
Finally, though, the Mountaineers ran out of magic and time. They pulled within single digits in the final five minutes and the deficit was as small as 76-72 with a minute to play. That came when freshman Henderson tipped in a shot and then seconds later hit another on a breakaway after a turnover.
But the Mountaineers would get no closer. The last gasp was an Eron Harris 3-pointer with the score 78-72 and just under 40 seconds to go. It was blocked by Babb.
"I expected them to come out and get after us. That's why I talk about the importance of the first five minutes of the second half,'' Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We had a great first five minutes, but I guess I should have talked to them about the last 15.''
WVU got 19 points from Hinds, who had 17 in the second half. Harris, Matt Humphrey and Aaric Murray had 11 points each and Henderson 10. Kilicli, the senior playing his final game at home, had just four points and four rebounds.
With the regular season over, all that is likely left for the Mountaineers is whatever they can manage to accomplish in next Week's Big 12 tournament. West Virginia begins play at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday night in one of two play-in games.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
Iowa State 83, West Virginia 74
Iowa State (21-10, 11-7)
Min FG FT R A P
Melvin Ejim 19 0-1 2-2 4 2 2