MORGANTOWN — Louisiana-Monroe gave West Virginia a tougher battle than most folks figured Saturday in the 2005-06 season opener for both teams.

But the 14th-ranked Mountaineers pulled away slowly-yet-steadily in the second half for an 88-69 victory before a Coliseum crowd of 7,621.

As a result, WVU advances to today’s final round of the Guardians Classic regional against Wofford, a 73-62 winner over Fairleigh Dickinson earlier Saturday.

That contest will start at 3 p.m., following a 12:30 p.m. consolation clash between Fairleigh Dickinson and Louisiana-Monroe.

The regional champion will earn a ticket to the tournament’s Final Four at Kansas City on Nov. 21-22.

WVU coach John Beilein said, “It’s a good feeling (to get past Louisiana-Monroe). But now we go against another worthy opponent. We’ll have to play better than we did today to beat (Wofford).”

He said the Southern Conference, where the Terriers compete, is a good conference.

“I was pleasantly surprised with our team’s performance, coming into a place to play with a team that is ranked in the Top 15,” Orlando Early, the LMC coach, said.

“Their seniors, with their experience and knowing how to win, made a play when they needed it.”

The Mountaineers shot 50.8 percent to 45.3 from the field and managed a 35-34 edge in rebounds. But turnovers were a major factor in the game’s outcome, Louisiana-Monroe committing 18 and WVU just eight.

Mike Gansey scored a team-high 22 points and pulled down a career-tying 14 rebounds to lead the winning attack.

Kevin Pittsnogle had 18 points, while Frank Young and Patrick Beilein chipped in 13 points each. Young also showed seven rebounds.

“That’s something we really need,” Beilein said of Young’s boardwork. “We know what he can do.”

Cecil Hood, the Indians’ 6-foot-2 senior guard, scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Reserve Dalky Melendez had 11 points.

WVU jumped out to a 6-0 lead and never trailed. The margin grew to 17 points at 33-16 with eight minutes left in the first half.

But the Indians pulled to within seven at 43-36 before Jo Herber’s basket made it 45-36 at halftime.

Louisiana-Monroe decreased the deficit to five points at 45-40 and again at 47-42 early in the second half. But the Mountaineers then started to pull away.

The biggest bulge was 20 points at 88-68 on Patrick Beilein’s three-point shot.

Pittsnogle said, “They’re a pretty good team. They made some big plays to stick close to us.

“We were good at times and not very good at other times. We can play a lot better than this.”

Patrick Beilein said WVU players were surprised Louisiana-Monroe shot so well, based on the fact it won just eight games last season.

“When they pulled to within five points in the second half, we started to play better defense. But give them credit.”

Gansey said, “They have some great athletes. They will win more than eight games this year. I don’t look so much at scoring as I look at rebounds.”

“I was happy (the Indians) only got to the free-throw line 17 times,” coach Beilein said. “That really helped us. I also was impressed with their shooting.

“They’re a tough team to guard.”

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