by Rachel Stern
After West Virginia defeated Washington on Thursday, head coach Bob Huggins tried to explain to the media what exactly the game meant to the state of West Virginia.
Let’s just say it meant a lot.
“They piped in to all the factories and all the mines and everything, the play-by-play, because otherwise guys were trying to get off their shift,” said Huggins, on Thursday after his team defeated Washington. “Everybody in West Virginia is listening to the game or watching the game. That’s how much it means to our state.”
Now with a chance to punch their ticket to Indianapolis and the Final Four, can you imagine how much this game means to the state?
The Mountaineers have quite the hurdle standing in their way. Kentucky showed just how potent their offense and defense can be when they dismantled tournament darling Cornell. At times, though, the Wildcats struggled and it is those lapses that West Virginia hopes they can take advantage of.
No. 2 West Virginia vs. No. 1 Kentucky
– West Virginia and Kentucky travels well. And I mean well. The Dome is loud and a mix of yellow and blue.
– Joe Mazzulla gets the start tonight for the Mountaineers. After West Virginia struggled at times to bring the ball up against Washington, Huggins knows Kentucky’s defense is even more intense.
– West Virginia comes out firing. Two straight threes and the second one came from Kevin Jones, who pounds his chest as he gets back on defense.
– John Wall is the fastest player in college basketball. He picks up the defensive rebound and gets two lay ups off in transition before most of the players can even get back.
– Mazzulla appeared to have a clear lane to the hoop but in swoops Patrick Patterson from the weak side. And you know what the block led to … a John Wall bucket in transition.
– Darius Miller is shaken up on the defensive end. He rolls around on the ground while, yeah you guessed it, Wall leaks out in transition. The Mountaineers are giving Kentucky too many opportunities to run and that is dangerous. 13-6 Wildcats, 13 minutes to play.
– Daniel Orton picks up a foul and Calipari yanks him right away. Calipari is in Orton’s ear as he heads to the bench.
– Huggins said his point guard was shooting the ball well and he was right. Mazzulla, not known for his scoring ability, cans a three. 13-9 Kentucky.
– During the timeout, injured West Virginia point guard Darryl Bryant talks to Mazzulla. He pats him on the head as Mazzulla forms a puddle of sweat on the hardwood.
– Wall already has five boards just 10 minutes into the game. That has been the key to him getting out in transition.
– West Virginia is tight on the offensive end. They are shooting just 3-14 from the floor.
– Wall just slices through the West Virginia D at will. He drives from the right wing past three Mountaineers and is fouled.
– The crowd goes ballistic when they think Kentucky went backcourt. Huggins races out to talk to the referee during the timeout. As the Mountaineer fans booed and yelled Wall canned a step back jumper from the right wing. He pounds his chest and smiles as he skips back on defense. No one can stop the freshman star.
– Wall has done it all on both ends. Poor Mazzulla gets in the lane again and goes up with it but there is Wall, pinning the ball against the backboard. He has eight points, six boards, two assists and a block with seven minutes to go in the first. All Wildcats, 16-9.
– Even the Kentucky cheerleaders are outdoing the Mountaineers. They put on quite a routine during the timeout, even forming a “UK” on the ground.
– Da’Sean Butler finally gets in the scoring column as he drains a three. Jones follows in Butler’s footsteps and drains a three of his own. Mountaineer fans are on their feet here at the Dome.
– Butler cans a deep three from straight away and he is in the zone. Butler jumps up and down on defense and the Mountaineers cause a Kentucky turnover. Tied at 18, four minutes to go.
– Butler is taking matters into his own hands. Off a Mazzulla steal Butler hits another three from the left corner. He pounds his chest and says, “I own this place,” as his teammates come over to chest bump him. 21-18 Mountaineers.
– After West Virginia forward Wellington Smith is called for a foul, he complains to the ref. Butler runs over to him, gives him a high five and settles his big man down. Butler is leading West Virginia in every way right now.
– West Virginia’s three point shooting has allowed them to climb all the way in front after a cold, cold start. They are 7-12 from beyond the arc and Butler is 3-4.
– Off a Mountaineer miss the ball gets tipped around a bit until Cousins swoops in and snatches it away from everyone. He is huge.
– What started off as the John Wall show has transformed into the Da’Sean Butler show. He cans another three and Wall fouls him. The senior is really feeling it.
– DeAndre Liggins picks up a technical foul and Patterson calls his squad together. He huddles them together at half court and Liggins must pull Wall back into the huddle after he tries to have a word with the referees. Butler hits both free throws and just like that the Mountaineers are up 27-22, one minute to go.
– Calipari is not happy with the referees. Cousins is called for a questionable foul and then the Mountaineers get an offensive rebound off a missed foul shot. Calipari makes the hand motion that his guy got pushed and puts his hands on his head.
– Wall misses a tough lay in at the buzzer. As the referees walk into the tunnel the Kentucky crowd lets them here it. At the half it is 28-26 West Virginia.
– West Virginia’s three point shooting has allowed them to stay in the game. They have zero points in the paint but are 8-15 from beyond the arc. And it all started with Butler. The senior has 15 points and is 4-5 from three point range. The Mountaineers have yet to hit a two-point basket.
– After a quick start the Wildcats got a bit careless with the basketball. They have committed 10 turnovers compared to just three from the Mountaineers.
– But the only way West Virginia is scoring is from the three ball. Can they keep up the hot shooting in the second half?
– Wall started hot but the Mountaineers really limited the Kentucky transition game as the half wore on. Wall did not score over the final seven minutes of the half.
– The Mountaineers pick up right where they left off. Kevin Jones drains a three from the left corner right in front of his team’s bench. Nine West Virginia field goals, nine three-pointers.
– Cousins is called for his third foul just minutes into the second half. He heads to the bench.
– Mazzulla gives Wall some of his own medicine and he drives right past him and hits the righty lay up.
– Another three ball for the Mountaineers. This time John Flowers gets in on the action hitting a wide open three from the right wing. Timeout Kentucky. Butler greets Flowers at half court and chest bumps him mid-air. 36-26 Mountaineers.
– Wall asks the ref to watch the moving screen as Mazzulla sneaks free under the basket, but cannot catch the ball.
– Calipari is perplexed. Mazzulla gets a wide open lane to the basket and hits the lay up. There was no Wildcat in sight. All the coach can do is stare at his team with his palms up. 40-31 Mountaineers.
– The intensity has really picked up here at the Dome. Both crowds are amped up and on their feet the entire time.
– The difference right now? Three pointers. West Virginia is 10-19, Kentucky is 0-10. With 14 minutes to play, Mountaineers by nine.
– After a pretty finger roll in transition, Eric Bledsoe is called for his fourth personal foul when he gets tangled up with the Mountaineer big men down low. He heads to the bench at 13:32 with his team down by six.
– The Mountaineers are constantly screening on offense. They are moving and screening the entire possession. The movement leads to a wide open lay up for Devin Ebanks who yells, “Let’s Go,” as he races back on defense.
– Joe Mazzulla has more than answered the call. Touted a player with no offense, Mazzulla has really stepped up here in the second half. He has 12 points and is beating Wall off the dribble with ease. He gets this layup on a nice hesitation move, freezing Wall. Another timeout Kentucky. West Virginia by 11.
– Another three point attempt for the Wildcats, another clang off the rim. They are 0-14 from beyond the arc.
– Wall finally gets free in transition. He splits two Mountaineers and brings it high, then low for the scoop lay in.
– After Butler misses a three-pointer, Wall is off. He doesn’t care that there are three Mountaineers standing between him and the basket. Wall takes it anyway and finishes on the left side. He cannot be stopped in the open floor. 49-42, 9:40 to play.
– Cousins is having a rough go of it. The big man finds a much smaller Mazzulla on him but is called for traveling. He saunters back on defense, frustrated.
– Mazzulla races over and hugs Ebanks after the long forward appears to have a wide open dunk, but cannot get a handle on the ball. 53-43 Mountaineers, 7:30 to play.
– Kentucky from three-point land: 0-18.
– Make that 0-19 after Bledsoe cannot connect.
– Mazzulla, who has been outstanding, gets called for his fourth foul with seven minutes to play. He heads to the bench.
– Wall lobs it up to Cousins, who appears to be slapped on the arm. The ball sails out of bounds, and though the Wildcats maintain possession, Calipari looks at the ref and says, “No foul?”
– Cousins takes a seat on the bench and Calipari is pleading with his big man. His palms are up and he is in Cousins’ face.
– Ebanks brings the ball up, his finger twirling in the air. Even with Mazzulla restricted to the sideline, Kentucky cannot stop the Mountaineers. 59-45 West Virginia, four minutes to go.
– Mazzulla sits on the bench between the assistant coaches with ice wrapped on his right calf.
– West Virginia fans are loving every moment of this. Ebanks gets them riled up as he waves his arms up and down. 61-49 West Virginia.
– Despite doubling up West Virginia in the paint, 36-18, the Wildcats cannot get a three ball to drop. They are 0-20.
– DeAndre Liggins finally hits a three for the Wildcats. Their first one comes with 3:10 remaining in the ball game. It cuts the Mountaineer lead to 11.
– The shooting struggles are not just restricted to the three-point line. The Wildcats are shooting just 12-25 from the charity stripe.
– Mazzulla buries his face in his hands. The junior gets called for a questionable foul and has fouled out. Mazzulla takes a seat at the end of the bench, frustrated.
– Darnell Dodson connects for Kentucky’s second three ball of the night at the 1:40 mark. Calipari paces on the sideline, he does not stop moving.
– Wall banks in a three from straight ahead. That cuts the West Virginia lead to seven with 1:14 to play. Calipari immediately signals furiously for a timeout.
– Mountaineer nation can feel the win. They get on their feet and wave goodbye. West Virginia up eight with 50 seconds to go.
– Chants of “Let’s go Mountaineers,” fill the Dome.
– As Wall and Cousins sit on the bench, Dodson cans another deep three ball.
– Ebanks takes a deep, deep breath before sinking two free throws to put his team up seven with four seconds to go.
– Every West Virginia fan is on their feet here at the Dome. Ebanks fires the ball into the air, while Flowers does a lap around the floor.
– Mazzulla and Huggins embrace on the floor.
– Final score here, 73-66 Mountaineers.
– Ebanks rips off his jersey and holds it up for everyone to see.
– Mountaineer fans break into a “Final Four,” chant. They follow that up with, “Big East, Big East!”
– On the podium the Mountaineer players hold up two fingers, the number of games left they have to win before a championship trophy heads to Morgantown.
– The latest chant here at the Dome, “Huggy, Huggy, Huggy!”
After West Virginia did not get the No. 1 seed they felt they deserved on Selection Sunday, Huggins talked about his team setting out on a mission. Well, the mission is heading to Indianapolis. After taking down the mighty Kentucky Wildcats 73-66, the Mountaineers will join Butler in the Final Four.
Despite getting outrebounded, outscored in the paint and, in their eyes, overlooked back on Selection Sunday, the Mountaineers were the ones cutting down the net on Saturday night. They connected on 10 three pointers, eight of those coming in the first half. Kentucky shot a dismal 4-32 from beyond the arc, or 12 percent.
Led by East Regional MVP Joe Mazzulla’s determination and grit, West Virginia took Kentucky out of their transition game and forced them into a jump shooting team. That did not work out too well for the Wildcats as they even struggled from the free throw line, hitting just 55 percent of their attempts.
The Mountaineers can guarantee that no one will overlook them anymore.