On to the Elite Eight
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
March 25, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – It’s always nice to have an ace in the hole. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins’ ace has been a 1-3-1 zone that he’s been frequently using at the end of games, and that defense helped the Mountaineers hold off pesky Washington 69-56 Thursday night in Syracuse and advance to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight for the second time in six seasons.
Kevin Jones scored 18 points and made three of West Virginia’s four 3-point baskets to overcome the Mountaineers’ season-high 23 turnover night. It was the first time West Virginia had committed more than 20 turnovers in a game this season.
“I definitely wanted to go out there and do whatever my team needed me to do to win,” said Jones.
Washington (26-10) turned the ball over 22 times and shot just 39.3 percent against West Virginia’s stout defense, which is giving up only 63.3 points per game and has not allowed a team to score 60 points during its postseason run that includes the Big East tournament.
In the first half, Washington was in control of the game partly because West Virginia was having trouble running offense, and partly because the Mountaineers were reluctant to crash the glass because of Washington’s great ability to score in transition.
“I think I showed them so much tape of how fast Washington is in transition and the need to get back that I think we were thinking about getting back rather than doing what we do,” Huggins said. “I told them at halftime, ‘You know, maybe we’re going to lose, I don’t know, but it we do lose, let’s lose our way.’”
The Huskies, which led for almost the entire first half, had a 27-25 lead at halftime before the Mountaineers scored nine of the first 11 points to take a 36-33 lead and force Husky coach Lorenzo Romar to take a 30-second timeout.
Two Venoy Overton free throws and a Quincy Pondexter jumper gave Washington back the lead, 37-36, but it would be the last time the Huskies would lead.
Jones answered with a big 3 from the wing to give WVU a 39-37 lead, a Casey Mitchell short jumper extended the lead to three, 41-38, and four Ebanks free throws made the margin seven, 45-38.
A critical point in the game came with 8:11 to go and West Virginia leading by nine. Butler made a drive to the basket where he collided with Justin Holliday, who was called for a blocking foul and Butler was awarded two free throws.
Romar threw his jacket off in protest, walked out on the floor, and was whistled for a technical foul. Ebanks made the two technical foul shots and Butler made his two free throws to turn a single-digit lead into a 13-point advantage.
Washington made one more run, briefly closing the margin to six with 5:57 on a Pondexter layup, but Jones once again answered with an easy bucket, Ebanks hit a free throw, and Jones scored again to get the lead back to 11.
Ebanks alternated with Butler and Mazzulla to bring the ball up the floor with Truck out for the season with a broken foot.
“It was tremendously uncomfortable, especially this time of the year when you’re not used to brining the ball up the floor,” Ebanks admitted. “Having our point guard out was a huge blow to us and we kind of played poorly in the first half. In the second half we kind of limited out turnovers, but still I think, we had too many turnovers in the second half.”
Late in the game Huggins pulled out the 1-3-1 zone to mask his team’s foul difficulties and to stop Washington’s dribble drives, but it also served to burn time off the clock. Washington made three baskets over the remaining 5:57 – all three buckets coming on fast break dunks off of turnovers.
“We were afraid they would iso us,” said Huggins. “So we started out playing matchup and we ended up playing 1-3-1. The reason was foul trouble.”
Butler didn’t have a great offensive night, scoring 14, but he was one of four WVU players who grabbed seven rebounds. Huggins singled out two heads-up defensive plays Butler made in the second half.
“Devin threw it away, they tried to throw it ahead and Da’ ran it down,” Huggins said. “Then he made a great play in the 1-3-1 stepping in front of a guy and making a steal. Da’Sean’s greatest strength is he knows how to play.”
Ebanks added 12 for the Mountaineers.
Jones, Butler and Ebanks outscored the entire Washington team 33-27 in the second half.
“The second half we kind of slowed down and got into our offense,” said Jones.
Washington’s two top scorers, Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, combined to score only 20 points – 17 below their combined season average. Holiday led the Huskies with 14 and Overton added 10.
West Virginia (30-6) established a school record for wins in a season, topping the Jerry West-led 1959 team that won 29 games on the way to the NCAA finals.
The Mountaineers have now won nine in a row and 11 of their last 12 dating back to the Connecticut game on Feb. 22.
West Virginia will face Kentucky on Saturday for the right to go to the Final Four.
WVU is the only remaining Big East team left in the tournament. Syracuse was knocked out by Butler earlier tonight.
“We want to be the last ones standing, period,” Huggins said.
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