LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- All involved on West Virginia's men's basketball team Wednesday night said they entered the game at Louisville defying distractions and expecting to win.
The 23rd-ranked Cardinals got out to a quick 11-5 lead, and the Mountaineers would go on to miss eight of their first 12 shots.
"I thought we came out early and we were just kind of like we were supposed to lose," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "That's why I called the early timeout. We weren't very assertive. Then I thought we got pretty assertive."
The Mountaineers made seven of the next 10 shots. Guard Joe Mazzulla played arguably his best half of basketball and scored 18 points, more in those 20 minutes than he'd had in any other game in his career.
Dalton Pepper came off the bench and not only scored for the first time in seven games, but scored seven points.
The WVU halftime lead was 11 points and Huggins' team looked not only like the club that thought it could win, but like the team that would win.
Never mind Casey Mitchell, the team's leading scorer, was suspended Monday, just one day after Danny Jennings left the team during a win against South Florida.
"We like having our backs against the wall," Mazzulla said. "We feel like we thrive in that situation."
It was a fleeting feeling.
WVU scored just 17 points in the second half and missed 18 of 22 shots. They were outscored by 12, admitted fatigue, missed key free throws and were defeated, 55-54, by a circus shot in the final seconds.
So, the Mountaineers (13-6, 4-3) fell into eighth place in the Big East, and got onto a bus for a 100-mile ride up I-71 to Cincinnati, where WVU will meet Huggins' former team Saturday at 8. The host Bearcats (18-3, 5-3) beat Rutgers 72-56 on Wednesday night.
With Mazzulla and Pepper playing above their averages and doing their part to replace Mitchell's productivity and 16.8 points per game, the outcome at Louisville's new KFC Yum! Center still went against the Mountaineers ... and went back to one noticeable statistic.
"My two returning starters," Huggins said, "are, between them, 4-for-21."
No matter who is healthy and available for WVU, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant will have to play well for the team to do well. In the loss, Jones was 3-for-13 for eight points and Bryant was 1-for-8 and scored nine points.
Bryant was also 6-for-10 from the free throw line with four misses in the final 2:48, including two with 25 seconds left that allowed Louisville to hit the game-winner with 4.5 seconds to go.