- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

As Joe Alexander developed into a first-team All-Big East player, his West Virginia teammates had a front-row seat.

And that was part of the problem. They occasionally did a little too much watching and not enough helping.

But that changed in last night’s NCAA tournament first-round game against Arizona at Verizon Center. With the Wildcats trying to shut down Alexander, Alex Ruoff and Darris Nichols combined for nine 3-pointers and 35 points in an entertaining 75-65 victory.

Ruoff (21 points), Da’Sean Butler (19) and Nichols (14) complemented Alexander, who added 14 points.

“I’d rather have it this way,” coach Bob Huggins said. “Alex and Darris made big shots early, and Da’Sean played well early. We knew they were going to give Joe a lot of attention, and we talked to our other guys about stepping into their shots.”

The Mountaineers tied a season high with 11 3-point baskets (on 19 attempts) and advanced to face No. 2 seed Duke in tomorrow’s first game (2:10 p.m.). West Virginia, the No. 7 seed, improved to 25-10.

Arizona (19-15) was led by Chase Budinger’s 23 points. The Wildcats limped to the finish line this season, losing nine of their last 13 games.

Despite West Virginia’s hot shooting, the Wildcats kept hanging around.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Nic Wise and freshman Jerryd Bayless cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 60-59. But Nichols and Ruoff hit 3-pointers 46 seconds apart. Following two Arizona free throws, Nichols rattled home a 3-pointer to make it 69-61. Arizona got no closer than six points thereafter.

When Georgetown focused on Alexander in last week’s Big East semifinals, the Mount Airy, Md., native missed 11 of 16 shots. But he didn’t get a lot of help. In a 72-55 loss, Nichols and Ruoff were just 6-for-14 from the field.

“Joe’s been on fire lately, and teams have been going after him with double teams, and we hadn’t been doing a good job hitting shots,” Ruoff said. “We knew we would get the looks, and the key to the game was knocking them down.”

While Roeff and Nichols starred in the second half, West Virginia built a 31-30 halftime lead because of Butler’s 11 points. Butler scored in double figures for the 11th time in 12 games.

The Mountaineers built a 25-17 lead before Budinger took over for the Wildcats, scoring nine straight points at one juncture. With Bayless struggling in his tournament debut (4-for-10 shooting), Budinger rose up with an 8-for-14 game.

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