MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Kyle Kuric’s 17 points, including a pair of free throws with six seconds left, helped 24th-ranked Louisville defeat West Virginia 77-74 Saturday afternoon at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown.
The loss was a particularly tough one for the Mountaineers (16-10, 6-7), which led by 13 in the first half and had a double digit lead with 13:49 remaining before coming unglued against Louisville’s full-court pressure. The Mountaineers only turned the ball over 11 times, but it seemed like all of them happened in their backcourt and led to easy Cardinal baskets.
“When you are allowed to play that way, then it is a great strategy,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins of Louisville’s press.
Leading by seven with 5:52 to go after a Dominique Rutledge follow-up basket, West Virginia went cold from the floor to allow Louisville to eventually tie the game with 2:38 remaining on a 3 by Kuric from the corner.
On West Virginia’s next possession, Wayne Blackshear took the ball away from Truck Bryant and he got it to Russ Smith for a driving layup to give the Cardinals their first lead of the second half with 2:18 to go.
A pair of free throws by Smith made it a four-point game, 75-71, until Kevin Jones answered with a conventional three-point play along the baseline to make it 75-74. West Virginia then got a stop on Louisville’s next possession when Kuric missed a 3 from the wing with 17 seconds remaining, however, Gary Browne’s pass intended for Jones down along the baseline was intercepted by Kuric and Browne fouled him with five seconds to go.
After Kuric hit both free throws, West Virginia had one last try to tie the game in regulation, but Bryant’s contested 3 from the wing was off the mark.
“We get a stop and Gary throws it way with five seconds to go and we’ve got a chance,” said Huggins. “With five seconds to go, they are not going to foul you – get the ball to the basket. He is trying to get it to KJ and KJ wasn’t in the post and he tries to throw it through people.
“They are trying; we’ve just got to step all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, go to the line and make free throws. We foul them and they make them. They foul us and we’re lucky to get one out of two,” said Huggins.
Huggins was unable to use a timeout on WVU’s final possession to get his team organized because he had to burn them all trying to adjust to Louisville’s full-court pressure.
In the first half, the Mountaineers were getting what they wanted in the paint with Deniz Kilicli and Jones until Kilicli was called for an offensive foul, and then a technical foul when he threw the ball up into the air in disgust at the call, with 1:24 remaining. Louisville only managed to score one point during that sequence, but the two fouls gave Kilicli three and forced Huggins to put him on the bench for the remainder of the first half and for the first seven minutes of the second half.
“He put himself in a position where he had to play the game in foul trouble,” said Huggins.
Jones led everybody with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Kilicli added 17 – 15 of those coming in the first half. Bryant added 13 but had another tough afternoon shooting the ball, going 3 for 17, including 2 for 10 from 3-point distance.
After shooting 50 percent in the first half, West Virginia cooled off in the second half hitting just 8 of 22 to finish the game at 44.6 percent. It was the opposite for Louisville. The Cardinals shot 48.1 percent in the second half to end the game shooting 44.3 percent. Louisville was 10 of 22 from behind the 3-point arc and was 13 of 15 from the free throw line.
West Virginia finished 7 of 22 from behind the arc and was 17 of 27 from the free throw line.
In addition to Kuric’s 17, the Cardinals got 16 from Russ Smith, 13 from Chris Smith, 13 off the bench from freshman Wayne Blackshear, and 10 from Peyton Siva.
Blackshear was making his first appearance of the season after being sidelined with a preseason shoulder injury. The plan was for him to originally play at DePaul on the 18th.
"I was always playing him," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "I didn't want Huggs to prepare for him. With today's world of the Internet and everyone knowing information, I decided to play him today."
This is the fourth straight West Virginia-Louisville game that has come down to the final possession, including the third in Morgantown. Last year, West Virginia pulled out a two-point win on a pair of Bryant free throws with 0.6 seconds left, and two years ago, WVU got late free throws from Da’Sean Butler to hold on for a 77-74 triumph.
"Well, the main thing is we've been coming to this place four years in a row," said Pitino. "More exciting than the victory is we are not coming back. It's a tough place to play, and we are very excited about the victory. We have played games with West Virginia starting with John Beilein and now with Huggs, but it is coming to an end."
Louisville (20-5, 8-4) has now won its sixth game in a row while West Virginia has dropped five of its last six games.
The Mountaineers will try to turn things around next Thursday night at Pitt in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN.