Kentucky ousts WVU, avenges Elite Eight loss
TAMPA, Fla. — Joe Mazzulla put his hands on his knees and covered his face with his jersey as the horn sounded on West Virginia's season.
In the Mountaineers' noiseless locker room afterward, Cam Thoroughman kept his head in a towel adorned with NCAA Tournament logos as tears ran down his face.
No. 5 seed West Virginia couldn't repeat its Final Four feat of a year ago, losing Saturday to No. 4 seed Kentucky, 71-63, in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
"It was tough to cope with a loss when the final buzzer went off," Mazzulla said. "We had a great run this year. We overcame a lot of adversity as a team. Even though we didn't go out the way we wanted, it's easier to get over when you know you gave it your all."
Kentucky avenges last year's loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats face the winner of today's game between No. 8 seed George Mason and No. 1 seed Ohio State on Friday in Newark, N.J.
For West Virginia, the careers of six seniors — starters Mazzulla, Thoroughman and John Flowers, and bench players Casey Mitchell, Jonnie West and Kerwin Selby — are over.
They led the Mountaineers through multiple suspensions, injuries and departures this season and kept up with a Wildcats team filled with high school all-stars.
"I'm proud of all of these guys," Thoroughman said. "In the middle of the season when times got tough, we could've just laid it down and packed it in and went on home.
"But we didn't. We battled through it. It made us all better basketball players and better people."
Kentucky freshman guard Brandon Knight gave the Wildcats the edge they needed over Kentucky-killer Mazzulla, who was booed at the start of the game by a Kentucky-clad crowd for his performance in last year's Elite Eight. Knight scored a game-high 30 points, including seven of the team's last nine points all from the free-throw line, to best Mazzulla's team-high 20 points.
"He was really good," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "There's a reason why everybody recruits those guys."
After Mazzulla scored 15 points in the first half, Kentucky coach John Calipari assigned 6-foot-6 guard DeAndre Liggins to cover him and shut down West Virginia's offense. Mazzulla, who appeared to injure his back late in the first half, forcing him to limp at times in the second half, had just five points in the final 20 minutes.
"We just didn't pass the ball. We weren't as spread," Mazzulla said of the second half. "At a time like that, you have to play through (an injury). In the last few games of your career, it's just something that you have to shake off."
Trailing by eight points, Kentucky opened the second half on an 11-0 run to take a 44-41 lead and held the Mountaineers scoreless for six minutes, 14 seconds.
West Virginia used a 9-3 run to force Calipari to take a timeout. After that, the Wildcats finished on a 20-8 run to end the Mountaineers' season.
"I was really proud of how we played in those last five or six minutes," Calipari said.
West Virginia was outrebounded by eight in the second half and scored just 22 points after hitting for 41 in the first half. The Mountaineers shots 33.3 percent in the second half after making almost half of their shots in the first half.
"We had a couple wide-open looks from guys ... and they didn't go down for us," Huggins said.
"Maybe it will be a little easier tomorrow knowing that he's still playing," Huggins said. "It doesn't help today."
Junior point guard Truck Bryant added 15 points for West Virginia, and Mitchell had 11.
The Mountaineers struggled with Kentucky senior forward Josh Harrellson, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman forward and SEC Freshman of the Year Terrence Jones had 12 points and 10 rebounds.