AUSTIN, Texas - What is arguably the primary strength of No. 19 Texas is almost certainly the biggest deficiency for West Virginia. And on Saturday night the Longhorns took advantage of that disparity in a big way in handling the Mountaineers.
Yes, afterward Bob Huggins talked about a lack of execution at points. He was disappointed that his team fell into an early hole and seemed to lose some of its resolve. His players talked of missed assignments and the like.
But in truth, it was really pretty simple. Texas' strength is WVU's weakness. Dominating play inside, the Longhorns pounded the Mountaineers into several 16-point deficits, then held off a couple of mini rallies and pulled away at the end, winning 88-71.
"Yeah, it's obvious that their strongest point is our weakest point,'' West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten said. "And that's hard to overcome.''
It certainly was on this night. With West Virginia's outside shooters largely unable to pull Texas away from the basket it was nearly impossible for the Mountaineers to make any headway.
Of course, that's exactly what Texas is built to do.
"We've always felt that with our size, that's what we should be good at doing,'' Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "We moved the ball as well as we have, but it's no secret. We want to get the ball inside as much as we can.''
The loss followed by five days West Virginia's most impressive victory of the season, a 102-77 rout of No. 11 Iowa State. The Mountaineers (15-11, 7-6 Big 12) had won four of their last five games before the stumble against the Longhorns.
Texas also swept the season series with the Mountaineers, having won 80-69 in Morgantown on Jan. 13. The Longhorns (20-5, 9-5) have now reached the 20-win plateau for the 14th time in Barnes' 16 seasons in Austin.
How did it happen? Well, Texas built 16-point leads in the first half and then several times in the second. And while West Virginia never folded, the Mountaineers could never sustain any runs because they couldn't get the ball to the basket and weren't especially hot while shooting from the outside. The result was a ridiculous 46-14 advantage for the Longhorns in points in the paint.
Texas also outrebounded the Mountaineers by 15 (by 16 in the second half).
Cameron Ridley, the 6-foot-9, 285-pound Texas center, was the majority problem for West Virginia. The Mountaineers handled him better in the second half than the first, but he still finished with 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and three blocks.
And when the massive Ridley needed a break, Barnes substituted 6-10, 250-pound Prince Ibeh.
"It's hard when they have two 6-11, 7-foot guys who are that active,'' Staten said.
After falling behind by those 16-point deficits, West Virginia got the deficit down to six early in the second half, then to single digits at 71-62 with just over five minutes to play, but came no closer.
"We have to be more resilient,'' Huggins said. "When things don't go your way, you don't stop playing. You play harder.''
At one point with about seven minutes to play, the points-in-the-paint statistic was staggering - Texas had 34 and West Virginia just four. Texas kept taking the ball to the basket and there was seemingly little the Mountaineers could do.
Eron Harris led West Virginia with 21 points but was 5-for-15 shooting. Nathan Adrian made four 3-pointers before cooling off late and finished with 12 points. Gary Browne added 10 points.
Staten scored 14, but not in his usual manner. With Texas clogging the inside, Staten couldn't get to the basket and had to rely on jump shots, going just 6 for 16. He also had seven assists.
"They played great team defense,'' said Staten, who had his fewest points since scoring 14 against Purdue three days before Christmas. "Every time I got the ball it seemed like there were guys running at me from every direction.''
Terry Henderson had 10 points, but for the second game in a row they all came very early - all 10 with 5:21 left in the first half. He took only one shot after that.
In the first half, Texas just manhandled the Mountaineers for a brief stretch that made all the difference.
West Virginia played fairly well early, at least on defense. Offense was a problem, though, because no one could score except Henderson and Harris, who combined for WVU's first 16 points. That was OK for a while, especially when Henderson converted a four-point play and led 14-11. But then it fell apart quickly.
Texas went on a 17-2 run, with everything coming inside or on drives to the basket. The Longhorns led 28-16 and the lead wasn't in single digits the rest of the half.
Ridley was a particular thorn in West Virginia's side. He scored UT's first two baskets on dunks, blocked two shots on one possession late in the half and finished the first 20 minutes with 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and three blocks.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
TEXAS 88, WVU 71
West Virginia (15-11, 7-6)