The Bottom Line
By Bill Nestor
The West Virginia University basketball team had a three point lead with under two minutes remaining in their “Sweet Sixteen” match-up with Gonzaga. It came on a trifecta from Jevon Carter and it, for a brief moment, gave momentum to the Mountaineers. However, on the trip down the floor, a return deep ball tied the game and signaled the end for Bob Huggins and his squad. Carter’s above mentioned top of the key three would be the last made field goal for the Mounties.
The game had no flow due to whistles and extended breaks. There were 51 fouls called in this affair, which is the main reason these teams combined to score zero fast break points. With just under two minutes remaining, WVU threatened to score in transition, but a pass to a driving Nate Adrian was deflected and appeared to be heading out of bounds. Adrian, in hot pursuit of the roundball, made an unbelievable save that was originally called out and would have given possession to the Bulldogs. The officials took way too long in deciding to overrule the obvious miscue. It served as a mega timeout for the Zags that were battling fatigue and foul issues at the time.
West Virginia overcame a horrific shooting performance (26.7% from the field) with effort and pressure. They came up with 15 points off of turnovers in the second half to keep them in a game that saw six lead changes and 11 ties.
Rebounding was another advantage for the Mountaineers as they held a 41-34 edge. Half of their caroms (20) came on the offensive side of the floor, providing second chance opportunities. The problem was that they couldn’t cash in on those opportunities. Carter had a game high 21 points, but he was the only WVU player in double figures. The rest of the team combined to make just 10 shots from the field.
This outing was one of the most physical games of the tournament so far. Neither team backed down and this game definitely wasn’t lost due to a lack of effort and despite only leading for less than three minutes of the entire game, the Mountaineers continued to apply pressure defensively in a way that only they can apply.
Forget anything that the experts on ESPN are saying. There is no team in the country that comes close to turning up the heat like “Press Virginia” and that is a direct result of the efforts of Huggins. He had this group of players believing in themselves and playing his brand of ball from the beginning of the season. He probably won’t receive the award, but in my opinion, Huggins is the “Coach of the Year” in college basketball.
There were several questionable calls in this lock-up. It got to a point where they would flash Huggins on camera after every controversial call, in hopes of catching a tirade that would lead to a technical foul. Huggins showed an unbelievable amount of restraint in the face of some iffy whistles, knowing that a “T” could hurt his team, especially late in the evening. I’m not sure if there was a single fan in the Mountain State that could have shown the restraint that Huggins did last Thursday night.
The loss was hard on all of the players, but especially tough on Adrian, James Long, Teyvon Myers, Tarik Phillip, and Brandon Watkins. They suited up for the last time in a Mountaineer uniform.
There is a solid nucleus of returning players that will be joined by a talented group of newcomers that will help Huggins (just like the Mountaineer Mascot) reload next season.
That will do it for now. Until next week…take care and God Bless!