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.