West Virginia knocks out Kentucky to reach Final Four – KansasCity.com
SYRACUSE, N.Y. | Country road, take me home.
or better yet, to Indianapolis.
It’s almost heaven, West Virginia. Da’Sean Butler and the Mountaineers are off to the Final Four for the first time since 1959.
Joe Mazzulla scored a career-high 17 points in his first start this season and West Virginia handled a cold-shooting Kentucky team stocked with future NBA players almost from the opening tip for a 73-66 victory in the East Regional final Saturday night.
“It’s something we’ve been preaching,” Butler said. “Not even just two more. Ever since we won our first game. five more, four more, three more. It doesn’t mean anything unless you win the whole thing.”
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins, back with his alma mater, is in the Final Four for the first time since taking Cincinnati in 1992. It’s an even longer stretch for West Virginia — Jerry West was the star of the team 51 years ago, and not yet a Hall of Famer or part of the NBA logo.
“The first day I was here, I told them I came back to win a national championship,” Huggins said. “I came back to win it for the university, having played there, and for the great people of our state.”
the young Wildcats could have used West’s famous shooting touch in this one. They were awful from three-point range, missing their first 20 attempts and finishing a stunning four of 32 (12.5 percent) from beyond the arc.
“We made it very difficult for them to see open cutters and just make plays in general,” Butler said.
DeAndre Liggins finally hit a trey with 3 minutes, 29 seconds left to end the drought, but by then, it was too late.
West Virginia went the other way, making eight three-pointers in the first half without a 2-point basket.
It’s been a turbulent time for Huggins since his previous Final Four appearance. He was forced out at Cincinnati, had a heart attack in 2002 and spent a year coaching Kansas State before he found the country roads back to Morgantown in 2007.
He couldn’t have imagined at the start of the tournament relying on Mazzulla to take his team to Indianapolis. Mazzulla came off the bench in 35 games this season and averaged 2.2 points — barely worth a mention in most scouting reports.
but he dashed uncontested to the rim for several easy baskets on Saturday. and when he was out of the game, he was on all fours in front of the bench slamming the court in encouragement.
West Virginia fans chanted “Final Four! Final Four!” as the players took their spots at halfcourt after the final buzzer. Butler, who scored 18 points, led the Mountaineers in a little Final Four dance and they cupped their ears to the crowd.
“I talked about it being special,” Huggins told the crowd. “Two more and it will be really special.”
The Wildcats, 35-3, who also went 16 for 29 at the free throw line, were a strong favorite to win their first national title since 1998 once overall No. 1 seed Kansas went down in the second round.
Instead, a team loaded with NBA-caliber players — John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins among them — is left to wonder how its season ended in a whimper.
now the focus shifts to which Wildcats are coming back. Wall, who scored 19 points, might be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft if he decides he’s one-and-done at Kentucky. Cousins, another fab freshman, and Patrick Patterson also could bolt.
After the sudden end to the season, Wall was noncommittal about his future.
“We wanted to make it as far as we wanted to and that was the championship,” Wall said. “We got it cut short.”
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