West Virginia men edge No. 11 Louisville, 72-70
West Virginia's Cam Thoroughman, center, celebrates with fans following a 72-70 win against Louisville today in Morgantown, W.Va.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Next season's graduating class for West Virginia helped give this year's seniors a send-off to remember.
Kevin Jones had a career-high 25 points and 16 rebounds and Truck Bryant sank two free throws with 1 second left to lift the Mountaineers to a 72-70 win over No. 11 Louisville in their Big East regular-season finale Saturday.
In the final home game for John Flowers, Joe Mazzulla, Casey Mitchell, Cam Thoroughman and Jonnie West, it was the juniors -- Jones and Bryant -- who solidified Bob Huggins' fourth consecutive 20-win season and the school's seventh straight overall. It also improved Huggins to 100-40 as West Virginia's coach.
"I just told Truck to take us home," Jones said of Bryant's winning free throws. "I'll put him at the line at clutch situations anytime. I know he'll make them."
West Virginia (20-10, 11-7 Big East) overcame a five-point deficit in the final 1:19 to clinch a first-round bye and will take a three-game winning streak into the conference tournament. The Mountaineers beat a ranked team for the fifth time this season.
The Mountaineers shot just 34 percent (21 of 62) from the floor, but made up for it by outrebounding Louisville 49-25.
Jones had his third straight double-double and was joined by Flowers with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Bryant and Mitchell added 10 points apiece.
"There were some games where I couldn't hit anything and some games where my offense was clicking a little bit," Jones said. "But I could never seem to get it all together in one game and I think that this was the first game that I had it all together."
Kyle Kuric scored 21 points for Louisville (23-8, 12-6), which saw its four-game winning streak snapped. Preston Knowles added 15 points and Chris Smith scored 14.
Louisville, picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll, already had clinched the No. 3 seed with a double bye into Thursday's Big East quarterfinals and didn't have anything on the line Saturday.
Both games between the teams this season were decided in the final seconds.
"It seems like every time we play Rick (Pitino) it is like this," Huggins said.
On Jan. 26, Louisville came from 11 points down to beat West Virginia 55-54 at home on Peyton Siva's layup with 4.5 seconds left. Mitchell missed that game while serving a three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Mitchell, West Virginia's leading scorer at 14.4 points per game off the bench, wasn't a factor this time until making two 3-pointers 9 seconds apart to tie the game at 70-70 with 10 seconds left.
After Knowles missed a 3-point try, Bryant got the rebound, was fouled by Knowles and made the winning free throws.
"I was just shocked that he fouled me and he really did foul me," Bryant said. "I said to him, 'What are you doing?' This game was going to overtime and they still had a chance, but that foul was crazy. The end of this game was crazy."
"It was just good seeing the seniors so happy."
It marked the second straight game that Bryant decided the outcome from the line. He made seven free throws over the final 1:19 in a 65-56 win over No. 16 Connecticut on Wednesday.
It also was a redemption of sorts for Bryant, who had missed two free throws with 25 seconds left in the earlier game at Louisville.
"I missed them at their gym," Bryant said. "I'm not going to miss these."
Pitino held a long postgame meeting with his players and did not speak with reporters.
"I think he wanted to reiterate to the guys that the key is focusing on the defensive end of the floor when you have a lead like that," said Louisville assistant Ralph Willard. "When you work so hard to have a lead like that in the last minute of the basketball game, defense wins you the game."
Neither team shot well in a physical first half that Louisville led most of the way. But the Mountaineers dominated the glass, were effective from the line and came from seven points down to tie it 18-all on two free throws by Cam Thoroughman with seven minutes left until halftime.
Thoroughman's jumper at the halftime buzzer put the Mountaineers ahead 32-30.
West Virginia led by as many as eight points early in the second half before Louisville started taking advantage of turnovers.
Knowles, held to one point in the first half, got going with a pair of layups and Kuric hit a 3-pointer with 8:26 left to give Louisville its first lead of the second half, 54-53.
Louisville twice extended the lead to five points on three occasions down the stretch, including Knowles' jumper with 1:46 left to make it 67-62, but that was the Cardinals' last field goal and Mitchell's 3-pointers set the stage for Bryant.
"What lost us the game was not guarding the 3 in the last two possessions," Willard said. "It was a point of business coming out of the huddle and unfortunately, we let the kid get two really good looks. They were both looks that he never should have gotten."
First Published March 5, 2011 10:53 pm