WVU men upset No. 11 Louisville, earn first-round Big East bye
Published: Saturday, March 5, 2011
Updated: Saturday, March 5, 2011 17:03
March is back. And, so is West Virginia.
The WVU men's basketball team won its 11th-consecutive game in March, when the Mountaineers made a miracle comeback in the last minute in a 72-70 victory over No. 11 Louisville at a raucous WVU Coliseum on Senior Day.
"I don't think there's a better way to go out," said senior point guard Joe Mazzulla. "We never gave up."
WVU (20-10, 11-7 Big East Conference) clinched a first-round bye in next week's Big East Conference Tournament with the win over the Cardinals (23-8, 12-6). The Mountaineers also earned its fifth win over a top 25 team and added to an already improving NCAA Tournament resume.
"That's big for us to get a bye," Bryant said. "Considering we were in 11thplace last week, and now we're fifth or sixth, that's huge."
WVU will find out later today where it will finish in the Big East standings, but the Mountaineers know already they won't play in the Big East Tournament until Tuesday.
After losing sixth of 11 games in the middle of conference play, WVU has won three of four including two straight wins over top 25 teams. The team has won three straight games against top 25 foes at home, as well.
"Looking at that schedule before hand, we were like, ‘Oh, crap. How are we going to pull this one off,'" Mazzulla admitted. "We took it one game at a time and we stayed not only physically tough but mentally tough."
Junior forward Kevin Jones had a double-double performance – in the first 15 minutes. He finished with a career-high 25 points and 16 rebounds. Senior forward John Flowers also had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. He added six blocks, which ups his season total to 73 – the second-best mark in school history for a season.
The Mountaineers dominated on the glass, out-rebounding the Cardinals by 24. The 25 offensive rebounds allowed WVU to gain 22 second-chance points.
"Kevin was terrific. He really, really rebounded the basketball," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins, who earned his 100th win at the school. "He's had some really good games, but that was special. He kept us in the game."
Despite being down by four points with 25 seconds to play, the Mountaineers wouldn't be denied.
Seinor guard Casey Mitchell drained a three with 17.3 seconds remaining to cut the Louisville lead to 69-67. Following a timeout, Mazzulla put UL guard Peyton Siva to the line with a foul. Siva made one two to give the Cardinals a 70-67 lead with 16.4 seconds to play.
"Once I saw him miss the first, I knew we had a chance," Mazzulla said, who picked up his fifth foul and had to leave the game at that point. "I just left it in God's hands. There wasn't anything I could do. I couldn't make a shot or make a pass."
WVU came back down the floor, and with less than 10 seconds on the clock, WVU point guard Truck Bryant found Mitchell again, who made his second straight 3-pointer to tie the game at 70 with 8.1 seconds to play.
"I knew when I got the ball I'd make the shot," said Mitchell, who finished with 10 points. "I just wanted a good memory in my last game. That was a great one."
On the other end, Louisville came down and Knowles miss a deep 3-pointer. Bryant grabbed the tipped ball new UL's bench, and it looked as if it would go to overtime.
But, Knowles grabbed onto Bryant and fouled him with 0.6 seconds to play.
Bryant, who had missed multiple free throws that would've sealed a victory at Louisville earlier this season that ended in a loss, made the game-sealing shots from the charity stripe this time.
"I was just shocked that he fouled me. He really did foul me," said Bryant, who had 10 points. "That might've been the dumbest foul I've seen all year."
WVU honored its six seniors – guards Kerwin Selby, Jonnie West, Mazzulla and Mitchell and forwards Cam Thoroughman and Flowers – prior to the game. In addition, as is customary at WVU's last home game, a new Mountaineer mascot was named. Current Mountaineer Brock Burwell will continue his post for the 2011-12 school year, as he was announced the winner for the second straight year to a boisterous cheer from the 15,032 in attendance - the largest crowd of the season.
WVU made 26-of-29 free throws including Bryant's decisive makes. Louisville missed 10 of its 32 attempts.
Louisville guard Kyle Kuric kept the Cardinals in the game for the most part with his outside shots. He made five 3-pointers and finished with a team-high 21 points. Knowles finished with 15 points and guard Chris Smith had 14.
UL guard Peyton Siva, who hit a game-winner against WVU earlier this season in Louisville, struggled with foul trouble and finished with just two points.
West Virginia had trouble against Louisville's multiple defenses early in the first half, but was able to take a 32-30 lead into halftime after Thoroughman hit a clutch jumper as the clock ran down in the half.
WVU opened up an eight-point lead early in the second half, but the Cardinals climbed all the way back to take a lead as large as five with less than two minutes to play.
The Mountaineers would have the last laugh, though, and continued their dominance in March.