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Cardinals, Mountaineers shine in great game


March 26, 2005 | ESPN.com's NCAA Tournament coverage

Let the celebration begin in Louisville! Do you think Cardinals' fans are ecstatic to have Rick Pitino on the sidelines? His presence has paid big dividends. Whatever cash has been piled up for Mr. Pitino, trust me, he deserves even more.

This win meant history for Pitino. He is now the first coach to take three different schools to the Final Four. He led Providence and Billy Donovan in 1987, and took Kentucky there on three different occasions. That is something special, since the magical journey to the Final Four is something a lot of coaches can only dream about.
Most teams would have withered big-time against the gallant effort of West Virginia.

Pitino's unbelievable will to win, his fierce competitiveness and his incredible ability to inspire are all reasons why the Cardinals are standing tall today, celebrating their first trip to the Final Four since cutting down the nets in 1986.

Most teams would have withered big-time against the gallant effort of West Virginia. Remember the name of John Beilein, as he did an incredible coaching job – teaching, motivating and getting his players to excel with tremendous offensive efficiency.

It looked like West Virginia's attack featured alum Jerry West, a man with the sweetest stroke. It was trifecta after trifecta, but the names were Mike Gansey, Kevin Pittsnogle and Patrick Beilein (the coach's son). The Mountaineers hit nine of their first 12 3-pointers. West Virginia smashed its school record for 3s in the contest (18-of-27) and built a 20-point lead (38-18).

Yet it wasn't good enough to hold off Louisville. The Cardinals came back, even with All-American Francisco Garcia on the bench after fouling out with 4:02 left. It looked like lights out for Louisville and party time in Morgantown, but you couldn't tell that to Pitino or his players. Heart is what Louisville was all about.

Pitino's kids reflect his personality – someone who scraps, claws and fights. Isn't it ironic that this win came on the same court where another former New Yorker, Jimmy Valvano, celebrated his special moment, winning the national title? That's right, the NC State Wolfpack, led by Valvano, upset Houston at the Pit in Albuquerque for the 1983 national championship.

Valvano's buddy, Pitino, enjoyed an incredible moment as his Cardinals rallied. For Pitino, it's back to the Final Four for the first time since leading Kentucky to the title game in 1997.

Think back to 1987 for a moment. When the 3-point shot became vogue, Pitino jumped on it and made it his advantage. He had Donovan and his Friars bombing away from all angles, letting them fly! That same method almost brought him down Saturday, with the Mountaineers on fire.

Again, give credit to Beilein for an incredible job. As a former coach, I sat there in amazement watching the Mountaineers. They executed spacing, 15 to 17 feet apart, plus ball movement and the final touch, the stroke. West Virginia did everything right but still didn't have enough in an incredible regional-final game.

There is no tough time that will bring down a kid like Taquan Dean. Cramping on the court, a case of mono or a minor injury will not stop him. Think about what he has gone through … he has lost the loves of his life. Over three years, from ages 6 to 9, he lost his mother, an uncle and his grandfathers. Do you think injuries get in his way?

As for Garcia, his brother was gunned down last year in New York City. Think about what these kids have had to endure. It helps make them the champs that they are – kids filled with heart, passion and a love for the game.

Louisville will only get better and better with the recruits Pitino is bringing in. The future is so bright. Those players have a coach who eats, drinks and sleeps basketball. Congrats to Louisville!

It was a heartbreaking loss for a bunch of gutsy kids from West Virginia, but they have a lot to be proud of. They captured the imagination and affection of fans throughout the nation.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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