With all due apologies to Dick Van Patten, eight is not enough.
West Virginia University, with Casey Mitchell on suspension, with Kevin Noreen on crutches and Dan Jennings on the way to nowhere, was undermanned Wednesday as the Mountaineers went against Louisville on its lovely new home court called the KFC Yum! Center.
Undermanned, but not overmatched.
With just eight scholarship players available and one of them, Jonnie West, held out because he did not match up well with Louisville’s quick, pressing defense, the Mountaineers did everything they could do to win this game except one thing.
Make a shot in the second half as they lost a heartbreaker, if not a season breaker, 55-54, on an acrobatic, twisting scoop layup between two defenders by the Cardinals’ Peyton Siva.
After Joe Mazzulla willed WVU into a stunning 37-26 halftime lead by scoring a career high 18 points and after WVU made two quick baskets in the second half and went ahead by 12, they went cockeyed every time they put the ball up. From 15:08 of the second half until 1:28 was left in the second half they missed every shot they took.
They came in every manner possible, save for a dunk. They missed layups and 3-point shots, jump shots and hook shots.
There were heroes and goats everywhere for the WVU, beginning, of course, with the obvious – Mazzulla.
Where the Mazzulla of the first half has been through his career is a mystery perhaps we will never unravel, for he has shown the ability to take over a game on a few occasions. Last year, in the NCAA Elite Eight he laid his career high 17 points on Kentucky. In the 2008 NCAA Tournament he almost had a triple-double against Duke, scoring 13 with 11 rebounds and eight assists.
Mostly, though, Mazzulla is content to come off the bench, get a few shots and run the offense, leading the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio entering this game.
Louisville did shut him down completely in the second half.
“We made adjustments on everything,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “What was happening was we were giving him his left hand and we were going for the ball fake. We were really concentrating on stopping other people. Not that we don’t have respect for Mazzulla, but that’s probably his highest point total he’s scored in a half in his career and that’s a tribute to his play. But we knew where he was in the second half.”
Another hero was Dalton Pepper. Pressed into extended action with Mitchell gone, Pepper scored 10 points, had two important put-backs and broke the long scoring drought with a 3 that pulled the Mountaineers within one.
But they couldn’t overcome the fact that Kevin Jones went 3 for 13 from the floor, John Flowers 2 for 8 and Truck Bryant 1 for 8 – missing six of the 7 threes he took. He is buried in an awful shooting slump that has seen him make just 16 of his last 67 shots, which is 23.8 percent. From 3-point range he has hit five of his last 26, which is 19 percent.
What’s more, in the closing minutes a normally unerring free-throw shooter who was hitting more than 80 percent on the year, missed four in a row down the stretch.
“It is what it is,” said Bryant. “I can’t put my head down.”
In some ways it was a miracle that a team facing the kind of adversity WVU is facing and doing it on the road in as hostile environment as there is should battle down to the wire and really, had they put anything together, pulled out a win.
They just didn’t quite have enough to pull it off.
You might say, in the end, it was eight men out.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With all due apologies to Dick Van Patten, eight is not enough.
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