MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- The days are over for West Virginia catching an opponent by surprise. That showed in the Mountaineers' first game since last season's improbable run that ended one win shy of the Final Four.
"Today, a couple people called our name. That was strange," said Mike Gansey, who led the Mountaineers (No. 14 AP, No. 15 ESPN/USA Today) with 22 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday's 88-69 victory over Louisiana-Monroe to advance to the second round of the Guardians Classic.
Then again, said Gansey, "It was kind of cool to have people know who you are."
Ranked in the preseason poll for the first time in 43 years, the Mountaineers had a second-half lapse as Louisiana-Monroe cut a 17-point deficit to five. But West Virginia responded with three straight baskets, including a 3-pointer by Gansey, to put the game
out of reach.
Louisiana-Monroe never got closer than eight points the rest of the way in the season opener for both teams.
Kevin Pittsnogle, a hero of last March's NCAA Tournament run, scored 18 points.
"These teams know who they are playing," Pittsnogle said. "So I think they play more aggressively. Teams know we are ranked and they want to knock us off. That's something different."
First-year Louisiana-Monroe coach Orlando Early joked that the tournament's Morgantown regional should have been called the West Virginia Invitational.
"I think we're all playing for that second-place trophy," he said.
The win set up a Sunday meeting between West Virginia point guard Darris Nichols and his brother, Shane, who plays for Wofford, which beat Fairleigh Dickinson 73-62 in the other first-round game.
"Getting to play against him will be special," Darris Nichols said of his older brother. "He shouldn't want me to win, and I don't want him to win."
The winner of Sunday's game advances to the Guardians Classic semifinals in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 21, against the winner of the four-team bracket hosted by No. 2 Texas. The other regional sites are at No. 9 Kentucky and No. 20 Iowa.
West Virginia has won all four season openers under coach John Beilein, the last nine overall, and has not lost a home opener in 16 years.
Patrick Beilein and Frank Young, West Virginia's only new starter, each scored 13 points with all of Beilein's coming in the second half. Joe Herber finished with 10 assists and one turnover.
Cecil Hood had a career-high 26 points for Louisiana-Monroe, which trailed 33-16 with eight minutes left in the first half. The Indians got as close as 47-42 on a putback by Darien Beynum early in the second half.
Each team finished with 10 3-pointers.
This was the earliest game in school history for West Virginia, which was No. 5 in the 1962 preseason poll.