It wasn't pretty, but West Virginia will take it.
Liz Repella scored 14 points, including the go-ahead basket with 1:26 left, and the ninth-ranked Mountaineers survived a 15-point second half in a 39-36 victory over Villanova on Thursday night.
West Virginia (9-0, 1-0 Big East) matched the best start in school history in its Big East opener, but it wasn't easy. West Virginia won despite shooting 17 for 44 from the field (39 percent), including 2 for 11 (18 percent) from 3-point range. The Mountaineers, who led 24-12 at halftime, missed 5 of 8 free throw attempts and committed 19 turnovers.
''It's always good to struggle and win,'' West Virginia coach Mike Carey said. ''I'd rather win ugly than lose ugly.''
But Carey knows the Mountaineers, picked to finish second behind Connecticut in the Big East, will need to improve to maintain their top-10 ranking and match others' expectations.
''We've got a lot of work, a lot of work to do,'' he said.
''We made a lot of mistakes,'' Repella said. ''We'll watch the film and correct our mistakes and get better.''
West Virginia's Madina Ali, who entered averaging a team-best 15 points per game, scored just four points but hit a key basket with 19 seconds left that made it 39-36. The Wildcats twice missed 3-point attempts in the final seconds that would have tied it.
Lindsay Kimmel led the Wildcats (5-4, 0-1) with 12 points.
Villanova took its first lead since early in the game with 2:56 remaining when Kimmel hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to put the Wildcats up 36-35. But the Mountaineers retook the lead for good on Repella's driving layup 1 1/2 minutes later.
''It was a big shot,'' Carey said. ''If anybody's going to take that shot, we want Liz to take it.''
The Mountaineers looked in complete control in the opening 20 minutes and it didn't appear that the contest would come down to the wire. But West Virginia shot 6 for 24 (25 percent) in the second half.
''We just didn't execute in the halfcourt set,'' Carey said. ''Give Nova credit, they did a great job. We weren't moving the ball, weren't reversing the ball and weren't spacing out.''
Still, Carey was happy to escape with a victory, West Virginia's first in 13 tries at Villanova.
''I just want to get out of here,'' he joked.