WVU basketball: No. 24 Louisville steals one from WVU
MORGANTOWN -- In a game the players labeled as one they had to win if they wanted to make the NCAA Tournament, West Virginia did everything right to build a 13-point lead against Louisville and then everything wrong to let the visitors take the game at the end.
The 24th-ranked Cardinals closed the game on a 13-3 run with a lot of help from the Mountaineers in the final 4 minutes, 31 seconds and pushed WVU one step farther from a fifth straight NCAA bid with a 77-74 win before 11,254 inside the Coliseum.
In the final five minutes Saturday, the Mountaineers missed 8 of 9 shots, fouled three times for six Louisville free throws and committed three turnovers for six Louisville points.
Down 75-74 with six seconds to go, freshman Gary Browne forced a pass to Kevin Jones under the basket, but Louisville's Kyle Kuric stole the ball and made two foul shots after Browne was forced to foul.
"Nobody is panicking, but fear? Fear is good for us right now," Jones said.
WVU has lost five of six overall. Saturday's loss was the sixth this season by seven or fewer points. The past four losses have been by three, four, six and two points.
"I told them before the game that we're this far away from being real good," Coach Bob Huggins said, holding his right index finger and thumb close apart. "We're that far away, but somebody is supposed to switch, but doesn't switch. We're that far away, but make some free throws. Somebody stand up like a man and make free throws at the end of a game. We're that far away from getting rebounds."
These are the things Huggins and his players have been saying for some time now, but it seemed to have run its course Saturday.
"I am tired of the 'ifs' - 'If we would do this right. If we would do that right. If we wouldn't do this,'" said Huggins, who made his first strategic change to the starting lineup all season and put Browne in the spot Keaton Miles held the first 25 games.
The Mountaineers led 40-27 when Jones made a 3 with 3:28 to go in the first half. It was 44-37 at the half, the first time WVU was up going to the locker room since Jan. 14. The Mountaineers were then up by 10 when Browne made a tricky layup at the 15:11 mark of the secodnd half.
Louisville was 10-for-19 from the floor and 10-for-10 at the free-throw line the rest of the game.
WVU (16-10, 6-7 Big East) took its 10th losses earlier than any season since 2002. The Cardinals (20-5, 8-4) have won six in a row and ended a two-game losing streak at the Coliseum in what's likely their final appearance here for quite some time with WVU heading to the Big 12.
"The main thing is we have been coming to this place four years in a row. More exciting than the victory is we are not coming back," Coach Rick Pitino said. "It's a tough place to play and we are very excited about the victory. They are a very good basketball team and it's a great road win for us."
Jones led WVU with 22 points and 11 rebounds and now has 17 double-doubles this season. Truck Bryant followed the sixth scoreless game of his career Wednesday with 13 points, but he shot 3-for-17 and missed 8 of his 10 3-point attempts, including one at the buzzer.
Deniz Kilicli scored 17 points, but put himself in foul trouble and his team in jeopardy in one bizarre sequence late in the first half. He picked up his second personal foul and then threw the ball in the air to get a technical foul and his third personal foul.
"I don't let him do that in practice," Huggins said. "Why would he do that in a game when I don't let him do it in practice. Does that make any sense?"
Kilicli was 6-for-7 for 15 points in the first half and was having no trouble getting his shots against the Cardinals. The Mountaineers outscored Louisville by eight points in the first half with Kilicli on the floor.
The technical foul kept him on the bench the first seven minutes of the second half. He fouled out when he committed an offensive foul with 1:43 to go. WVU was outscored by 10 points with Kilicli on the bench in the second half.
WVU shot 50 percent in the first half, but just 36.4 percent after halftime and made only 17 of 27 free-throw attempts. It's the seventh time this season the Mountaineers have missed at least 10 free throws in a game.
The Cardinals were led by Kuric's 17 points and four 3s. Russ Smith scored 16 points, Chris Smith added 13 and three 3s and Peyton Siva had 10 points and five assists. Freshman Wayne Blackshear, a high school All-American who hadn't played this season because of a shoulder injury, scored 13 points and made three 3s in 20 minutes in his college debut.
The Cardinals had been talking about using playing Blacksheear for the first time in next Saturday's game at DePaul.
"I was always playing him (Saturday)," said Pitino, who is now 11-6 against Huggins. "I didn't want Huggs to prepare for him. With today's world of the Internet and everyone knowing information, I decided to play him (Saturday). It was his birthday."
The Mountaineers were handing out gifts and though they had just 11 turnovers, they were at bad times, often against the Louisville press, and good for 22 Louisville points. The last three were critical.
After Kuric tied the score 71-71 with a 3 with 2:38 left to play, Bryant and Blackshear became entangled under the WVU basket and Bryant crashed and lost the ball to Russ Smith, who scored and put the Cardinals ahead for good.
Kilicli fouled out and turned the ball over on the next possession and Chris Smith was fouled and made two free throws.
Jones scored off an offensive rebound and made a free throw to make to 75-74 with 50 seconds to go and Kuric missed a 3 with 17 seconds left.
Browne dribbled at the top of the key and tried to fit a pass inside to Jones, but never saw Kuric. Jones said he was open, though only briefly, and said he needed to come to the ball.
"It was a bad pass," Huggins said. "It's the end of the game. They're not going to foul you. Get the ball to the basket. He was trying to get the ball to K.J., but K.J. wasn't in the post. He was trying to get it through people."
Kuric made two free throws with five seconds to go before Bryant, who won last Sunday's game against Providence with a 3 just before the buzzer in overtime, missed badly from the left side as time expired.
"It hurts, especially when you play your hearts out like that," Jones said. "Things didn't go our way. Deniz gets in foul trouble and Deniz was playing really well early on. Us having to force up a last-second shot with Truck when we didn't have to and we could have gotten a better shot. It comes down to not making the right plays at the end of the game."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.