To this television viewer, West Virginia University’s 73-66 upset of NCAA favorite Kentucky Saturday night was just another case of WVU coach Bob Huggins outfoxing Kentucky’s John Calipari.
In making its record 31-6 and reaching the Final Four for only the second time in nearly 120 years of collegiate basketball, West Virginia obviously had a well-planned procedure in taking control of the contest and maintaining as much as a 16-point lead in the second half.
It was only the third loss in 38 games for the Wildcats and only the fifth in an intermittent series with the Mountaineers, which Kentucky leads 13-5.
I thought that Joe Mazzulla, during a career-high 17-point performance, showed what he was made of in this victory. After WVU scored only 3-point goals in the first half, Mazzulla broke through for three quick layups as West Virginia moved on top, 47-36. Obviously, the Mountaineers adjusted to an inside game from the perimeter shooting, where the Mountaineers had eight 3-pointers in the opening half and not a single goal from inside the arc in the first 20 minutes.
Two years ago, Mazzulla was the architect of the 73-67 upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament in Washington, scoring 13 points with 11 rebounds and eight assists.
He certainly looked like he has regained his fine form after having undergone major surgery on his left shoulder last year.
The veteran point guard from Johnston, R.I., who has been granted another season for 2010-11 for medical reasons, eventually fouled out of Saturday night’s game. His teammates held tight to pull out the victory.
The Mountaineers made some critical free throws before the last minute or two and some struggles at the stripe. They kept the winning margin, though, and the Wildcats were kept at bay down the stretch as the clock ticked out.
There were several thousand WVU fans in the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., cheering this gutty group along as the Mountaineers pulled off the upset.
West Virginia, ranked sixth in the nation, has now won 10 in a row.
No. 2-seeded WVU now moves on to Indianapolis for the Final Four. It is the first time WVU has gotten there since the 1958-59 team led by the legendary Jerry West and coached by Fred Schaus. That team finished with 29 victories. Bob Huggins’ current team has bettered that.
Ronnie Retton, a retired basketball and baseball star, was a key contributor to that 1958-59 advance. The Marion County native stole an inbounds pass in an NCAA game at Charlotte to keep the Mountaineers alive for a spot in the semifinals and final in Louisville.
Bob Clousson of Clarksburg was the starting center. Lloyd Sharrar had graduated the previous year along with Shinnston’s Don Vincent and Joedy Gardner, who later coached Huggins at WVU.
California won the 1959 national championship game, 71-70.
That certainly was a great WVU team, although I thought the 1957-58 team had a better shot at the national title until Vincent broke his leg.
I’m getting the opinion that the current team might be the best since then, maybe better, although it is very difficult to compare teams of different eras.
Da’Sean Butler was certainly the top player in the East Regional, which the Mountaineers have won. He may become a leading candidate for national player-of-the-year awards.
I know a guy who will certainly cast a No. 1 ballot for the John Wooden All-America team now being selected.
Huggins and his players flew back to Morgantown after the game and will certainly enjoy a well-deserved rest before starting preparation for the Final Four.