The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 20, 2011

Kentucky rallies from eight down, ends WVU’s season

TAMPA, Fla. — Reality caught up with West Virginia University Saturday afternoon as Kentucky played up to its pedigree as a college basketball royalty and the Mountaineers shot down to theirs in the second half of a 71-63 defeat that eliminated WVU from the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats, now 27-8, received a career-high 30 points from Brandon Knight, a man-child of a freshman, and combined it with the blood and guts provided by journeyman center Josh Harrellson, to overcome an eight-point halftime deficit.

“We seem to bring that out in people. He was really good,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said of Knight.

It was the fourth time in the last four games WVU had given up a career-high point total to an opponent.

The Mountaineers got another spectacular performance from Joe Mazzulla in his final college game. The senior from Rhode Island, who has fought through injury his whole career, scored 20 points, 15 of them in that rush to a first-half lead.

Also wrapping up their WVU careers were forwards Cam Thoroughman, who had three points, seven rebounds, an assist and a steal; John Flowers, who again was shackled with foul problems and never got untracked, scoring but two points with one rebound; and guard Jonnie West, who got off a couple of desperation 3’s late in the game as the Mountaineers were gasping their final breaths of the 2010-11 season.

But it was Knight who scored early and late to clinch the deal, hitting 14 of Kentucky’s first 21 points and seven free throws in the last minute to maintain a safe lead.

In a game like this, there are any number of plays that swing the momentum from one side to another, but two in particular that turned the game Kentucky’s way. The Mountaineers had battled and scratched and scraped in the first half and somehow got a hot hand at the end, scoring eight rather incredible points to lead, 41-33, at intermission.

Guard Truck Bryant hit a 3 that somehow hit the front of the rim, bounced into the air and went in; Cam Thoroughman made the first of two free throws, missed the second but somehow crashed the boards to get his own rebound to put it back in; and then, with just 0.4 seconds left a foul was called during a scramble for a loose ball that allowed Casey Mitchell to hit two free throws as the half ended.

Kentucky roared out of the gate in the second half, holding WVU scoreless for the first 6 minutes and 15 seconds to take a 44-41 lead.

“They came out hard because they were down,” Mitchell said. “We paid because we did not match their intensity.”

“I guess it was just lack of focus on our part,” Mazzulla said. “We had a lack of intensity coming out in the first half and in the second half. Yeah, I think that had a lot to do with it. We knew they were going to come out strong, and we had talked about trying to weather that storm in the first four or five minutes, and we didn’t do a good job.”

The Mountaineers, however, came roaring back as Mitchell got hot. He hit a jump shot, then ran behind a Deniz Kilicli screen to make a three on which he was fouled, making the free throw. That put WVU in front and Mitchell, feeling hot, asked Huggins to run the same play.

Again he went behind the screen. Again he jumped and shot. Again he scored, but this time the whistle was blown to charge Kilicli with an illegal screen.

Instead of a basket and four-point lead, Kentucky had the ball.

Was it really a foul?

“I don’t know,” Kilicli said. “They called it, so it was. The thing was, I really fouled him on the first one and they didn’t call it. On the second, I don’t know.”

The second turning point came with 5:58 left, the score tied at 55-55.

Knight took a 3 and missed, but the muscular Harrellson was there to rebound it. He put up a layup, but missed, grabbing his own rebound. He then put up another follow and missed again, but grabbed yet a third rebound.

Three, being a charm, was enough as Harrellson finally scored to give the Cats a 57-55 lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the way.

It was two of Harrellson’s 15 points and three of his eight rebounds.

“Harrellson just outmanned us,” Bryant said. “He was a beast.”

The rest of the way WVU could get nothing going. In the final 7:37, WVU got a basket from Kevin Jones and meaningless 3-point basket from Mitchell. Those were the only two baskets as they scored but 22 second-half points.

Kentucky had revenge for being eliminated by the Mountaineers in the Elite Eight last year.

 After it was over, Huggins and Kentucky coach John Calipari, his rival and friend, met and shook hands.

“Good luck,” Huggins said. “Now go win this thing.”

As for Huggins, it was time to begin trying to figure out how to win it next year.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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