Bryant's FTs Sink Louisville
The Cardinals, 23-8, 12-6, appeared to have the game locked up leading by five, 69-64, with 25 seconds left following a pair of free throws by Chris Smith.
But Casey Mitchell hit a 3 to make it a one possession game with 18 seconds remaining and then Peyton Siva could only convert one of his two free throw attempts one second later. Siva’s miss opened the door for Mitchell to tie the game with his second 3, a deep shot from well beyond the top of the key off a Bryant screen.
“I was praying at the line, ‘Please miss one. Please miss one.’ I didn’t expect him to miss the first one and when he did I was like yes,” said Mitchell. “I just ran down the court saying, ‘I’ve got to hit this shot.’”
After Mitchell’s game-tying basket, Louisville’s Preston Knowles came down the floor to try a game-winning shot, missed, and while trying to go for the rebound he fouled Bryant 85 feet from the basket right in front of Louisville’s bench.
“We got a lucky bounce and we got a lucky call; Casey knocked down a couple of 3s that were huge for us and then Truck went to the line and knocked two down – we just had a couple of big plays from everybody,” said junior forward Kevin Jones.
A disgusted Rick Pitino, who did not speak to the media after the game, threw his suit jacket to the ground when he realized the game was going to be decided on a pair of free throws. Bryant made both of them and a last-ditch half-court heave from Louisville was nowhere close to the rim.
As irony would have it, if Bryant would have made his free throws down the stretch in an earlier game at Louisville – and if Siva doesn’t make his tough driving basket at the buzzer - West Virginia would have been on the better side of the scoring column that night.
The Mountaineers (20-10, 11-7) were on the better side of the scoring column today because they destroyed Louisville on the glass, 49-25, yet the Cardinals made up for their rebounding discrepancy with some nifty 3-point shooting. Kyle Kuric hit 5 of 6 from beyond the arc, including a four-point play when he was fouled by Deniz Kilicli on his made 3 from the corner that tied the game at 51 with 9:10 remaining. Kuric finished the game with 21 points on 7 of 9 shooting.
Just minutes before Kuric’s four-point play, West Virginia appeared to be taking control with an eight point lead, 41-33, following a pair of Joe Mazzulla free throws.
Louisville’s biggest lead was also eight at 16-8 midway through the first half; there were 12 ties and 11 lead changes in the game.
“It seems like every time we play Rick it is like this, or something like this,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “They have banked a couple in to beat us. They told me when I got into the business that it all evens out, but I think he still owes me a couple.”
“What lost us the game was not guarding the 3 in the last two possessions,” said director of operations Ralph Willard, speaking to the media instead of Pitino. “We needed to guard the 3. It was a point of business coming out of the huddle and unfortunately we let the kid get two really good looks. They were both looks he never should have gotten. We should have switched into the ball screen."
For the first 39 ½ minutes or so, things were not exactly going well for Mitchell, who finished with 10 points. He was 1 of 6 shooting, missed all five of his 3-point tries and spent a good portion of the game getting yelled at by Huggins. Still, he felt like he had some pretty good mojo after a brief pregame meeting with Jerry West, here today to walk out on the carpet with his son Jonnie on Senior Day.
“He was on the sideline, I shook his hand and he said, ‘Great season.’ Then I grabbed his hand and put my hands on them and rubbed them for good luck and I said, ‘Let me get some of your luck,’” Mitchell said. “It probably helped me tonight.”
It certainly didn't hurt.
Mitchell, who has had some great games and some not-so-great games this year, regrets not having the opportunity to play against Louisville the first time these two teams met in Louisville back on Jan. 26, a one-point Cardinal victory.
“It was frustrating because I wasn’t able to play that game,” said the former juco national player of the year. “I was sitting at home watching it and to see them lose at the end and I wasn’t there to help them - that just made me feel bad inside.
“I didn’t want to go out like that at home and I had a chance to play on senior night and I felt like we had to get a win to get pay back, and we got it.”
Kevin Jones played his best game of the season, scoring a season-high 25 points while also grabbing a season-high 16 rebounds. Jones has really come on strong in his last three games, producing double-doubles against Rutgers, Connecticut and Louisville and averaging 17.3 points and 12.3 boards during that stretch of games.
“I’m just being more aggressive,” said Jones. “I’m playing more worry-free. I have a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders, it feels like, and I’m just going out there playing the way I know how to play and I wasn’t doing that before.”
Jones admitted he’s been putting too much pressure on himself to perform.
“When I missed some shots I got down on myself but now when I miss a shot I just get back on defense and try to get that shot back one way or another, whether it’s on the glass, defense or whatever,” said Jones.
“Kevin was terrific,” added Huggins. “He rebounded the basketball. He has had a lot of really good rebounding games, but that was special. He kept us in the game. Kevin played really hard. He never asks to come out, but he asked today.”
John Flowers added 12 points and 12 rebounds while fellow senior Cam Thoroughman contributed 8 points and six rebounds before fouling out.
The Mountaineers are getting hot at the right time of the season. West Virginia enters the Big East tournament having won four of its last five and five out of its last seven, including victories over nationally ranked Notre Dame, Connecticut and Louisville.
It was the fifth victory over a ranked team for the Mountaineers this season and they can be seeded no lower than seventh in the Big East tournament, depending upon what happens later today, meaning they will get a first-round bye.
Earlier this week, West Virginia locked up its sixth consecutive winning season in conference play. Since 2006, the Mountaineers are 65-39 in Big East action (62.5%) and are one of only three teams (Pitt and Marquette the other two) to have six straight winning seasons in conference play.
It was Huggins’ 25th 20-win season and his fourth straight at WVU; he is now 100-40 in four seasons at his alma mater.
“We have played the best schedule in the history of the school,” said Huggins. “You wouldn’t know it because it rarely gets put out there, but it is the best schedule in the history of the school.”
He is not exaggerating.
Sixteen teams on West Virginia’s schedule presently have 20 or more wins, and five more have at least 18. The combined record of the Mountaineers’ 30 regular season opponents is an impressive 573-323.
Big East tournament pairings will be announced later this evening.
Big 12 Championship Report
Big 12 Championship Report 4
WVU Baseball Experience in Moore, Okla.
Big 12 Championship Report 3
Mountaineers Speak on CNN
Big 12 Championship Report 2