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Mountaineers compose another masterpiece

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- There really should be music when West Virginia plays, something classical with the rest of the natural sound blocked out.

Watching the Mountaineers run their offense to near-perfection is like taking in an afternoon concert.

The maestro, conductor, whatever you want to call him, is West Virginia coach John Beilein. Throughout the course of a game, Beilein remains composed, sometimes standing, but mostly sitting. His arms move in a fluid motion, sometimes one, other times both, but always with a purpose.

Sunday afternoon, the performance hall was the Pavilion on Villanova's campus. A sold-out arena provided the atmosphere. When it was over, you almost felt like standing up and yelling, "Encore! Encore!"

West Virginia came back from 12 points down in the second half to top previously undefeated Villanova, 91-87. Call it an upset if you must, but this was more of a clinic than anything else. Beilein could sell the tape of this game and make a good profit from other coaches who would dare to emulate his style.

Clearly, you need players who are intelligent, crisp with their passes, can shoot and are about as poised as any five.

"Our kids work so hard in practice at things like (passing and catching)," Beilein said after the Mountaineers (10-3, 2-0 in the Big East after two straight road wins) had only two second-half turnovers (nine overall) against the quick-handed Wildcats. They also had 27 assists on 33 baskets.

"It lends credence as to why we do these stupid drills of catching the ball with two hands and pivoting correctly, because even if you're going against a great defensive team you can still execute, even if you're not as athletic," Beilein said.

The Mountaineers won this game despite Villanova shooting 71 percent in the first half (15-of-21) and 48 percent in the second (14-of-29). The difference was a 1-3-1 zone that helped force 22 Villanova turnovers.

Beilein said the Mountaineers can't be successful without forcing turnovers and converting them on the other end. Simply running their offense of a myriad of cuts, curls and backdoors won't be enough. Still, the movements by the Mountaineers Sunday, and this goes for whenever they're on, are almost like dance steps.

Villanova's Randy Foye said the Wildcats' plan was to give up the backdoor cut as the expense of limiting the 3-pointers. The Mountaineers are known for their raining of treys (and had 11 on Sunday, with Mike Gansey and Kevin Pittsnogle each knocking down four), but the backdoor burned the Cats on numerous occasions.

"It's real difficult (to guard) because everybody can pass and shoot," Foye said.

"It's a great feeling," said Gansey of the wide-open lane on a backdoor cut. Gansey had a few and fed a couple of passes for backdoors as well. "They're pressuring you and trying to not let you catch the ball and then you back cut. You know you've got a layup or a dish to a teammate. Coach Beilein has an offense for every team, pressing teams, everyone."

The Mountaineers are well-versed and have the experience to run their sets to perfection. Gansey (who might be the most intelligent player in the country with the way he reads the passing lanes on both offense and defense), point guard J.D. Collins, underrated wing Joe Herber (who posted 23 on this day) and a more versatile Pittsnogle (complete with post-up game) all are seniors. So is the coach's son, guard Patrick Beilein. Junior forward Frank Young, who split time with the younger Beilein down the stretch, was just as deft as anyone with his backcut entry passes.

Beilein the elder said the Mountaineers probably were relying too much on 3s earlier in the season, when West Virginia lost to Texas and Kentucky in Kansas City. The loss to the Longhorns was the direct result of some missed one-and-one situations down the stretch. The Mountaineers said the Kentucky loss the next night was, in part, a result of a hangover from the Texas defeat.

Losing to LSU at home -- West Virginia's third loss in a row -- wasn't as explainable, although after seeing the Tigers Saturday in Hartford, it's easy to see how the Mountaineers could get beat. Since then, the Mountaineers have reeled off eight straight wins, including a 92-68 shredding of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

The schedule is favorable from here on out, with the Mountaineers playing three straight at home before a three-game road swing through UCLA (OK, very tough), Marshall and St. John's. While West Virginia still has to go to Syracuse, Pitt and Georgetown, the Mountaineers get Connecticut and Louisville at home and don't mess with Villanova again.

The run to the Elite Eight is hardly looking like a fluke.

"Our chemistry is really starting to come together," Pittsnogle said. "Everything we did out there was just like March and the Big East tournament."

Believe it or not, the way West Virginia ran its offense, Sunday actually was better.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com