Final Four Bound!
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
March 27, 2010
SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Can you believe it? West Virginia is Final Four bound! The Mountaineers got 18 points from Da’Sean Butler and 17 from Joe Mazzulla to knock off top-seeded Kentucky, 73-66, Saturday night in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
The Mountaineers (31-6) are making their second Final Four appearance in school history – the last was 51 years ago in 1959 when All-American Jerry West led the Mountaineers to the NCAA finals. Coincidentally, 1959 was also the last year West Virginia defeated Kentucky on Dec. 19 in Lexington.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is going to his second Final Four, leading Cincinnati to the national semifinals in 1992.
“Obviously we’re very proud to represent the Big East, it’s a phenomenal basketball conference with great coaches and great players, but we’ve kind of rallied around each other and they’ve been on kind of a mission,” said Huggins. “We talked about being special and if we can find a way to win a couple more we could be really special.”
“Hats off to West Virginia, they did what they had to do to win the game,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari.
Butler kept West Virginia in the game in the first half with the 3-ball – all eight of West Virginia’s first half field goals came from 3-point distance.
After Kentucky took an early 16-9 lead by pounding the ball inside, West Virginia discovered its offense from behind the arc, getting back-to-back 3s by Butler and Jones to pull the Mountaineers to within one, 16-15, and another Butler 3 with 5:03 remaining tied the game at 18. West Virginia’s first lead came on another Butler bomb with 4:14 to go.
West Virginia was also the beneficiary of a technical foul called on Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins for arguing a call that led to two Butler free throws.
An ominous sign for Kentucky came at the start of the second half when Eric Bledsoe missed two free throws right off the bat, and West Virginia responded with a Jones 3, a Mazzulla driving layup and a Flowers 3 from the wing to make it a 10-point Mountaineer lead, forcing Calipari to call timeout.
Kentucky (35-3) quickly got it down to five, 36-31, on a DeMarcus Cousins layup, but Devin Ebanks responded with a jumper and Mazzulla made another drive to the basket pushed the lead back to nine, 40-31.
Mazzulla, who came into the game averaging just 2.2 points per game, scored five points during a two-minute stretch, and Ebanks added an easy one near the bucket to make it 47-36 with 11:53 remaining.
Layups by Bledsoe and Wall reduced West Virginia’s lead to seven, 49-42, but once again it was Mazzulla who answered with a tough drive to the hoop.
“What hurts was when we were making a little run and they were hitting layups off those shuffle cuts,” Calipari said. “He just got some layups that were back breaking.”
West Virginia’s biggest lead was 16 points, 61-45, with 4:25 remaining following a pair of Ebanks free throws.
Then things got a little interesting. First, Mazzulla fouled out with 2:21 remaining and the Mountaineers leading by 11, 64-53. Then Kentucky reduced West Virginia’s lead to single digits on a pair of Liggins free throws. Less than a minute later, Wall banked in a 3 from the top of the key with 1:18 left to trim West Virginia’s lead to seven, 68-61. Two missed Flowers free throws on one end, and a pair of Patrick Patterson free throws on the other, made it a two-possession game with 41 seconds left.
Butler was able to hit one free throw to stop the bleeding with 33 seconds left, Jones made another one with 23 seconds left to keep it a five-point game, and Ebanks iced it when he pulled down Darnell Dodson’s airball from the corner with 13.8 seconds left, was fouled, and hit both free throws to make it a three-possession game.
The 1-3-1 zone that Huggins chose to use for most of the game really bothered Kentucky. The Wildcats missed their first 20 3-point field goal tries and finished a miserable 4 of 32 from behind the arc.
“It gets a little demoralizing when we missed the shots that we missed,” Calipari.
Kentucky also struggled at the free throw line, missing 13 for the game and going 16 of 29 overall.
“The 1-3-1 bothered us,” said Calipari. “We’ve had poor shooting games like this and won, but West Virginia was too good for that to happen tonight.”
“We came in thinking we were going to change defenses on them and try and keep them off-balanced,” said Huggins.
West Virginia was out-rebounded 51-36, was 0 for 16 from two-point range in the first half and didn’t get its first two-point field goal until a Mazzulla layup with 18:09 left in the game. The Mountaineers also missed 11 free throws.
“They out-rebounded us and we just did everything possible to win the game still,” said Butler.
“I’m proud of us because we never gave up because the way they played and the way we played it could have very easily been 20,” said Calipari.
“Bob has his team playing exactly the way they need to be playing,” added Calipari.
Jones added 13 points and Ebanks contributed 12.
“Going to the Final Four is great, but we’ve still got two more games to win,” said Ebanks.
“I thought this could have been the final game, West Virginia is that good,” said Calipari.
John Wall scored 19 and Cousins added 15 for Kentucky.
West Virginia will play the winner of the Duke-Baylor game in one national semifinal next weekend in Indianapolis.
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