PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jay Wright knows all about the agony of crafting gameplans to stop the top guards in the conference.
He takes some relief in knowing he’s not the coach who has to shut down the duo in Villanova’s backcourt. Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher may be the best combination in the Big East — and why the No. 12 Wildcats are always so dangerous.
Wayns scored 17 points and Fisher had 16 to help the Wildcats pull away late in a sluggish game, beating No. 25 West Virginia 66-50 on Saturday.
“I think these guys are the best, I really do,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t trade these two guards for anybody. Anybody.”
The Wildcats (19-4, 7-3 Big East) finally got hot late in the second half to break open a boring first 30 minutes. The Wildcats led 45-40 midway through the second, then went on a 19-3 run to coast toward their second straight win.
Wayns, Fisher and Corey Stokes all hit 3s during the spurt and the Wildcats were sensational from the field. They were 25 of 46 (54 percent) in numbers bolstered during the run.
Kevin Jones scored 16 points and John Flowers had 15 for the Mountaineers (15-7, 6-4).
Fisher and Wayns shot a combined 12 of 19 out of the backcourt and had nine assists.
Wayns has come off the bench the last three games, a demotion that certainly wasn’t a punishment, but a need for the Wildcats to get bigger in the starting lineup.
“He knows he’s playing starting minutes,” Wright said. “And it’s helped us.”
Wayns never complained and still shares the backcourt with Fisher.
“It’s the same mindset, I’ve got to get a lot better defending and rebounding,” Wayns said. “My team needs me to defend and rebound so we can be a good team, then that’s what I’ve got to do.”
When he said he wasn’t worried about scoring, Wright interjected, “But we need the 17 points.”
Neither team could find much of a groove in an ugly and physical game. Clock malfunctions, blood spills and poor shooting early made it a long day at Villanova’s off-campus NBA home.
While Wayns and Fisher had help from their teammates, West Virginia could not overcome lengthy scoring droughts that derailed a two-game winning streak.
The Wildcats outrebounded the Mountaineers and played perhaps their best defensive game of the season.
Jones and Flowers were the only Mountaineers in double-digit scoring, but Dalton Pepper gave them some long-range pop early in the second half to keep the score close. Pepper, from nearby Levittown, Pa., hit a pair of 3s over 3 1/2 minutes that pulled the Mountaineers within five.
The Wildcats made 50 percent of their 3s and finally broke free offensively to spark a contest that certainly didn’t have the big-game feel between two Top 25 teams.
West Virginia shot a woeful 19 of 53 (36 percent) from the field at the start of a rugged stretch that includes two games with Pittsburgh and one with Syracuse and Notre Dame over the next five.
“That will be tough,” Jones said. “But we just have to get this one out of our mind and try to get a win.”
Casey Mitchell was scoreless in his first game back from a three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He came off the bench late in the first half and played 9 minutes. The Mountaineers went 2-1 without Mitchell. He’s averaging 16.6 points per game, a team high.
Coach Bob Huggins didn’t say why Mitchell, a 6-foot-4 senior guard, was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 24. He offered less insight on Mitchell’s reinstatement.
“Because I’m the coach,” Huggins said. “And I decide who plays and who doesn’t.”
Darryl Bryant only played 13 minutes and was popped hard in the nose early in the second half that bloodied the court.
Bryant’s 3 made it 10-4 — the last Mountaineers’ field goal for 9:21. Fisher scored eight points on a 14-2 run during West Virginia’s drought — it missed 13 straight shots — to pull ahead for good.
“When we win, we rebound the ball,” Huggins said. “We have to get more than one shot somehow.”
Even worse, the Mountaineers were 5 of 12 from the free throw line.
“There’s probably eighth-grade teams that shoot the ball better than that,” Huggins said.
Fisher and Wayns each hit 3s in the final minutes of the first half to help the Wildcats take a 30-19 lead at the break. Stokes, playing with turf toe, continued a string of flat games with six points.
But Fisher and Wayns picked up the slack, and it shouldn’t surprise. They have been as dangerous a duo as any guard combination in basketball this season. And the Mountaineers were just the latest team that failed to handle the speedy sharpshooters.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)