WVU beats Kentucky, heads to the Final Four
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — West Virginia's motto this postseason was yelled loud and clear within the Carrier Dome following the Mountaineers' 73-66 victory over Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.
The crowd shouted, "Two more games!" as the Mountaineers players held up two more fingers.
Saturday's game was the next step toward winning the program's first national title, said WVU coach Bob Huggins.
"I talk to these guys all the time about being special," Huggins said to the crowd after the game. "In two more games, we're going to be really special."
It is just the second time in school history the Mountaineers have made it to the Final Four. The first time was in 1959, when WVU made it to the title game before losing to California, 71-70. WVU earned its first win over Kentucky since that year, as well.
Huggins advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1992 when he was at Cincinnati. It will be his second career Final Four appearance.
The Mountaineers will play today's winner between Duke and Baylor in Indianapolis.
"It feels really good," WVU senior Da'Sean Butler said. "It just shows what we've done so far, but we have a lot more to accomplish. We're just enjoying it right now and we'll be ready to go win two more."
No. 2 seed WVU (31-6) shot 53 percent from beyond the arc in the first half and shot more than 50 percent from the field, including some clutch free throws down the stretch in the second half to upset No. 1 seed Kentucky (35-3). Kentucky struggled, missing its first 20 3-pointers, and shot just 34.3 percent.
Despite Kentucky's size inside, it was West Virginia's shortest player who led the Mountaineers to the Final Four.
WVU starting point guard Joe Mazzulla scored a career-high 17 points before fouling out with 2:21 to go. Mazzulla scored 14 of his points in the second half. He earned Most Outstanding Player honors of the East Regional.
"When you're up against so many NBA prospects and three lottery picks, what do you have to lose?" Mazzulla asked. "You've just got to go out there and play."
Butler had a team-high 18 points.
With WVU up, 63-53, Kentucky started to foul the Mountaineers with 2:33 to go to try to make a final comeback. It worked, as Darnell Dodson hit a 3-pointer with under 30 seconds to play to cut WVU's lead to four.
But Kevin Jones hit a free throw, and Dodson missed a three on the other end. Devin Ebanks was fouled on the play. He hit both free throws to seal the win.
"We've given up leads before with a minute left," Butler said. "We looked back on that and reminded ourselves it's not over."
It was a battle of the big versus the small in the first half, as the Mountaineers were overpowered inside. In fact, they did not make a two-point shot in the first 20 minutes. They hit eight threes and 4 of 5 free throws but did not make a layup or a jump shot inside the arc.
"We just couldn't get anything at the basket," Huggins said. "But I told them at halftime that we need to keep grinding and it will open up because (Kentucky) will get tired of chasing, and that's what happened in the second half."
In the second half, the Mountaineer dealt with the size with for success.
Mazzulla, as he did in the Mountaineers' 2008 NCAA Tournament's second-round win over Duke, took over. After the Wildcats cut the lead to six, Mazzulla scored five of WVU's next seven points to give the Mountaineers their biggest lead to that point, 47-36.
Kentucky freshman John Wall had a game-high 19 points.
Wall, Wildcats forward DeMarcus Cousins, Jones and Butler joined Mazzulla on the All-Tournament team for the East Regional.