- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -– Quick thoughts on a stunning result as West Virginia wins the East Regional 73-66.
This was supposed to be a coronation for Kentucky. Guess not.
Kentucky's inability to shoot 3-pointers and free throws was exposed like never before. The Wildcats were 16-of-29 from the charity stripe and 4-of-32 from outside the arc (started 0-for-20). Before making its first 3 late in the second half, UK had missed 28 straight from long distance, dating back to the Cornell game. Wow.
West Virginia won this game. The Mountaineers took it over early and kept the foot on the throat. The Mountaineers' first eight field goals were all 3-pointers. Once the Mountaineers established that tempo, the Wildcats were reeling and felt like they had to keep pace. The way they were shooting they had no shot.
West Virginia’s Joe Mazzulla was terrific. He took the challenge of going right up Kentucky's gut. He had three coast-to-coast drives to the basket and was untouched. Mazzulla even made his first 3-pointer of the season. He played most of the season with a bum shoulder and was an offensive liability, but tonight he was West Virginia's offensive threat. His 17 points more than doubled his previous season-high (8) and he reached double-digits for the first time since November 2008. In fact, he'd scored 17 points in his last four games COMBINED. The Wildcats probably thought, "Why not let him put it on the floor because he can’t elevate well enough to score?" That was wrong. Remember when Darryl Bryant’s broken foot was supposed to be a distraction for the Mountaineers? When was that? Oh yeah, earlier this week.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins hasn’t ever really received his due for his coaching ability. He is one of the best in the business. His 1-3-1 zone flustered Kentucky throughout the game. Could he have planned on the Mountaineers making so many 3s? Of course not. But the Wildcats’ inability to score was more of the issue. Huggins has blended the defense of John Beilein’s WVU teams and mixed it in with his lengthy players like Devin Ebanks. That’s terrific stuff from Huggs.
Kentucky had a chance to win the national title with Kansas and Kansas State out of the field. But the window for this particular group is likely closed. Expect freshmen John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and possibly Eric Bledsoe to declare for the NBA draft with an almost-certain declaration for junior Patrick Patterson. The Wildcats will reload quickly under Calipari, but will be far from a favorite in the preseason.
West Virginia has to be considered the new favorite entering Indianapolis with two of the Final Four spots locked up: Butler, West Virginia and the winners of Baylor-Duke and Tennessee-Michigan State. If the Blue Devils beat Baylor, I would go with West Virginia over Duke.
Huggins has been saying all week how fans in West Virginia are passionate about the program and this team. Kentucky gets plenty of publicity for its obsession with the Commonwealth’s team. It’s time we give West Virginia its due for how beloved this program is in that state. They now get to see their team in the Final Four for the first time since 1959.
I can’t think of another alumnus that has done as well as Huggins has for West Virginia, in such a short amount of time. Jim Boeheim is an institutition at Syracuse. That one comes immediately to mind.
Butler and West Virginia in the Final Four. What if Baylor and Tennessee make it as well? I'm not sure we have had a semifinals in the modern era with so many programs that have never been to the Final Four. Duke and Michigan State are the lone elite teams left that can earn a berth.
Huggins coached Cincinnati to the Final Four in 1992. I remember it well. I was a young cub reporter with the Albuquerque Journal.
The Big East can boast that it continues to have a presence in the Final Four. That's now the fourth Big East Final Four in the last four years.
In the preseason -- or better yet, just two weeks ago -- who had Tennessee as the one SEC team with a Final Four shot?
Ebanks is a special talent. His length and reach on defense is something to behold.