SOUTH BEND, Ind. - There aren't many teams that would have stood a chance against Notre Dame Wednesday night, not with the Irish shooting the lights out on a Purcell Pavilion court on which they are pretty much invincible no matter the circumstances of their own performance.
Suffice it to say, playing against a West Virginia team that at times didn't even seem like sticking around, it was no match at all.
After staying with the Irish for a half, West Virginia was simply blown away in the second half Wednesday night. Notre Dame shot 60 percent in the second half and 61.4 percent for the game and routed the Mountaineers 71-44.
It was by far WVU's worst loss this season and the worst of Bob Huggins' five-year coaching career at his alma mater. The previous worst was the 23-point home loss to Cincinnati in Huggins' first season. It was also the fewest points the Mountaineers have scored since Huggins' second team was beaten 54-43 by Kentucky in an early-season tournament in 2008.
But even had the Mountaineers been able to score more, it likely would not have made a difference.
"I've never had a team give up 60 percent [shooting] in two halves. It never happened. You can look it up,'' Huggins said before adding the kicker. "We just don't guard.''
Indeed, while the Irish shot exceptionally well - Notre Dame made 8-of-11 shots to start the game and 9-of-12 to start the second half - they had help from a West Virginia defense that played well for the first few minutes of the game, but then let it get away when things didn't go right.
"We were playing well until they got us in transition, and then we panicked and took bad shots,'' Huggins said.
After a performance like that, WVU can now only hope that it doesn't linger. The fact of the matter is the defeat - save for the margin - wasn't a complete catastrophe for West Virginia (17-11, 7-8 Big East) because the Mountaineers have three games remaining and the Big East tournament in order to boost their hopes of a fifth straight NCAA tournament berth. But in losing to the Irish for the 11th straight time at Purcell Pavilion, West Virginia has made winning all or most of its remaining games critical.
It doesn't get any easier for the Mountaineers in their next game, a quick turnaround for a home game against No. 10 Marquette Friday at the Coliseum. West Virginia finishes the regular season next week with a home game against DePaul on Tuesday and a trip to South Florida a week from Saturday.
"We have three games left and we have to win them all,'' said West Virginia forward Kevin Jones. "We have to get this game out of our minds.''
Notre Dame, meanwhile, remained as hot as anyone in the Big East. The Irish (20-8, 12-3) have won nine straight. One of those wins was a 55-51 victory in Morgantown in which WVU led late before Notre Dame made big shots down the stretch.
"We kind of stole one from them in Morgantown,'' Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "I thought this one would be [close], down to the end. I'm a little surprised we got away from them like that.''
Jones had 15 points and eight rebounds for the Mountaineers, passing the 1,000-rebound mark for his career. Truck Bryant was the only other WVU player in double figures, but he had all 10 of his points in the first half. He went scoreless against the Irish the first time the teams played.
West Virginia shot 31.5 percent and no one made more than half their shots. Jabarie Hinds was just 1-for-9 and Bryant 3-for-11. Huggins even used Paul Williamson extensively and Tommie McCune for 10 minutes, while neither Keaton Miles nor Aaron Brown played. Huggins said the latter was because of defensive deficiencies.
Notre Dame was led by Jerian Grant's 20 points. He was one of four double-digit scorers. Eric Atkins had 13 points and eight assists.
West Virginia started the game exceptionally well, but couldn't hold it. The Mountaineers scored on five of their first six possessions, twice getting offensive rebounds, going to Deniz Kilicli in the post and getting a 3-pointer by Hinds. It was 9-4 and West Virginia was playing exactly the way it wanted to play.
It only lasted, though, as long as WVU made shots. When that stopped happening, Notre Dame took advantage of almost every miss, getting out in transition and scoring, and it was off to the races.
Still, somehow the Mountaineers managed to stay with Notre Dame, even though the Irish shot that well and Jones finished the first half with just six points and two rebounds. Bryant had 10 points, three assists and two steals before the break, and at the half WVU was down just 30-28 before the bottom fell out.
"They played harder than us and they made shots and we didn't,'' Jones said. "But no matter how many shots they make, we can't give up. And we gave up.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1
Notre Dame 71, West Virginia 44
WEST VIRGINIA (17-1, 7-8)
Min FG FT R A P
Kevin Jones 39 6-12 3-3 8 1 15