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WVU basketball: Mitchell, Bryant better late than never

MORGANTOWN -- As far as regular-season finales go, West Virginia couldn't have asked for much more than what it experienced Saturday.

The Mountaineers escaped a five-point deficit with 25 seconds to go and clinched a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament with a 72-70 victory against No. 11 Louisville.

For Bob Huggins' postgame comments, check out Daily Mail video on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14KKb-vZA4I

A season-high crowd of 15,032 at the Coliseum to celebrate Joe Mazzulla, Cam Thoroughman, Jonnie West, John Flowers and Casey Mitchell on Senior Day endured a fantastic finish.

Mitchell made his only two 3-pointers of the game with 18 and eight seconds to go, the second to tie the score 70-70. Louisville's Preston Knowles then hurried the other way and missed a long 3 and inexplicably fouled WVU's Truck Bryant in the left corner with 0.6 seconds remaining.

"That," Bryant said, "might be the dumbest foul I've seen all season."

Bryant made both free throws and gave WVU its first win in 11 opportunities this season when it trailed entering the final minute.

The Mountaineers had also been 1-6 this season in games decided by five or fewer points, including the 55-54 loss at Louisville Jan. 26. WVU was 7-3 in those games last season.

"What a way to win a game," Thoroughman said.

WVU has won three games in a row and four of five. The victory guaranteed the Mountaineers (20-10, 11-7) have Tuesday off as they prepare to defend their first Big East Tournament title. They'll be the No. 6 seed and play the 9:30 p.m. game Wednesday.

"This is a good win for us and we're going into the Big East Tournament with a lot of momentum," said forward Kevin Jones. "We've had a lot of games that came down to the last seconds and we see now it's when we execute and when we do things right at the end that we're successful."

Jones had arguably the finest game of his career, let alone this season, with career-high totals of 25 points and 16 rebounds. Chris Moss was the last WVU player to finish with 25 and 15. He had 29 points and 16 rebounds in a double overtime win against Villanova in 2001.

It's Jones' third straight double-double -- this one was official before halftime -- and fourth in five games. He has nine this season. Jones had 11 offensive rebounds -- the most by a WVU player since Paul Witting had 14 in 1953 -- and scored 10 of WVU's 22 second-chance points.

"I think Kevin was terrific -- absolutely terrific," said Coach Bob Huggins, who has won 20 games or more in 27 of his 29 seasons as a head coach and all four at WVU. "He really, really rebounded the ball. He's had a lot of good rebounding games, but that was special. He kept us in the game."

Jones kept them there until Mitchell and Bryant won it. Jones made his final basket with 1:19 to go to cut Louisville's lead to 67-64 and the Cardinals missed a layup on the other end. After Flowers missed a 3 and Mitchell grabbed the rebound, WVU called a timeout and set up Jones for an open 3 at the top of the key.

Jones missed and Chris Smith put the Cardinals up five at the foul line with 25 seconds left. Bryant assisted Mitchell for a 3 and Mazzulla fouled Peyton Siva, who missed the first and made the second to make it 70-67.

Bryant moved past half court and tried to find Mitchell, who ran around a screen and took a handoff and struck again.

"They were contested shots, but we ran some great plays to get me the ball," said Mitchell, who missed his first five shots and didn't score until six minutes remained in the game. "I just needed the ball in my hands. I was going to rise up over whoever was out there."

Louisville didn't call a timeout and Knowles shot from a few feet behind the line. The shot bounced off the rim to the left and Bryant and Siva raced to it with Bryant getting it first. Knowles arrives an instant later and thumped Bryant. 

"I grabbed it and turned to shoot it and I felt somebody hit me right in the head," Bryant said.

Knowles immediately put his hands on his head and both benches responded with vastly different expressions of amazement. Bryant, who missed two free throws with 26 seconds to go the first time the teams played, made a pair.

"A foul is a foul," Huggins said. "If you foul somebody, you foul somebody."

Bryant and Mitchell both finished with 10 points and Flowers added 12 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.

Kyle Kuric led the Cardinals (23-8, 12-6) with 21 points and was 5-for-6 from 3-point range. Knowles had 15 points and Smith added 14. Siva, who beat WVU with a circus shot in the first meeting, was 0-for-3 from the floor and had two points, four rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes dotted with foul trouble.

The Mountaineers shot just 33.9 percent for the game, but handled themselves exceptionally well on the glass and outrebounded Louisville 49-25. They had as many offensive rebounds as Louisville did total rebounds.

It mattered dearly in the first half as the Mountaineers were 6-for-21 on their first shot. The offensive rebounds and second and third shots were the difference, though. WVU missed 10 straight firs tshots in ine stretch, but managed to outscore Louisville 10-9.

WVU finished the regular season 5-5 against ranked teams and closed out its home schedule by beating then-No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 16 Connecticut and Louisville in succession.

"If you looked at that schedule beforehand you probably thought, 'Oh, crap, how are they going to pull this off?'" Mazzulla said. "We did this one practice at a time and one game at a time. It was a great job not only to stay tough physically, but to stay tough mentally and follow scouting reports and do what we do."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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