The Mountaineers earned their first Final Four trip in 51 years by dissecting Kentucky in shockingly thorough fashion. They won 73-66 at the Carrier Dome on Saturday because their defense exposed every Wildcats weakness and left a normally brash team flummoxed.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — As soon as West Virginia beat Kentucky, the rock-star young team whose fans include actress Ashley Judd and hip-hop artist Drake, John Flowers stood atop the scorer’s table and mocked the defeated foe.
Flowers did the “John Wall Dance,” moves that gained national popularity during the Kentucky guard’s dynamic freshman season. Soon after, several of his Mountaineers teammates joined him in celebration and ridicule. West Virginia, full of hardened, underrated athletes, couldn’t resist making sure the world understood what it had done.
The Mountaineers earned their first Final Four trip in 51 years by dissecting Kentucky in shockingly thorough fashion. They won 73-66 at the Carrier Dome on Saturday because their defense exposed every Wildcats weakness and left a normally brash team flummoxed. By the end, the Wildcats could only scream — at the referees, at themselves, at their coach.
So, for the first time since Jerry West was in college making basketball seem like magic, West Virginia has advanced to the national semifinals. And after an 18-year journey that included a heart attack, a DUI arrest and a firing at Cincinnati, coach Bob Huggins returns to the Final Four.
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“I just want to thank everybody,” an emotional Huggins said as he addressed the crowd afterward. “I want to thank the state of West Virginia. I talk to these guys about being special. Two more, and we’re going to be really special.”
It took a special effort to win this one. Despite being outrebounded 51-36, the Mountaineers controlled this game by making 10 three-pointers and using their length in a 1-3-1 defense to force Kentucky into a string of missed jumpers. The Wildcats clanged their first 20 threes and finished 4 of 32.
In a bizarre first half, West Virginia led despite not making a two-point basket (0 for 16) and getting crushed on the boards (39-13). They hit 8 of 15 three-pointers by halftime to remain in control.
That barrage of treys included one by Joe Mazzulla, the new West Virginia starting point guard. Replacing Darryl Bryant, who is out with a broken foot, Mazzulla made his first three-pointer of the season. It led to a 17-point performance that spurred the Mountaineers.
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” Mazzulla said of having the confidence to shoot. “What’s going to happen if I go sit next to Huggs for a little while?”
The Wildcats couldn’t handle that kind of moxie. They are used to being the aggressive, carefree team. But in this game they looked young and, at times, clueless.
As the game progressed and they continued to shoot bricks, they grew frustrated. As the game became more physical, they grew angry. DeAndre Liggins was whistled for a technical foul. DeMarcus Cousins stomped to the bench several times and shouted back at Kentucky coach John Calipari. Wall even lost his composure early in the second half.
Calipari admitted his team’s greatest strength — its youthful zeal — turned into a weakness.
“I don’t want to have excuses,” said Calipari, who finished 35-3 in his first season as Kentucky coach. “They outplayed us. But I think there were times when the inexperience hurt us.”
Taking down Kentucky was fitting for this West Virginia team, one built on toughness. What the Mountaineers lack in offensive talent they make up with their athleticism and defensive determination, not to mention their defiant nature.
“Obviously, we love to make everybody upset,” guard Da’Sean Butler said. “So we grinded it out and played our game. I knew we were going to win.”