SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- No Truck, no problem, at least according to the players and coaches from West Virginia.
A day after finding out that starting point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant is out for the season with a broken bone in his foot, the Mountaineers put on a happy face as they met with the media in anticipation of their NCAA East Region semifinal against Washington.
"Truck has been hurt before," said West Virginia senior Da'Sean Butler. "He knows what to do and how to take care of it. I know he has faith in us that we can win the game. So I don't see where the whole 'let's panic about everything' will be.
"I think we'll be fine. We'll continue to smile and be ourselves."
That attitude was echoed by most of Butler's teammates and coaches, and with good reason. Bryant's role has decreased in the past month as redshirt junior Joe Mazzulla has gotten more playing time.
Still, when the Mountaineers (29-6), the No. 2 seed in the region, and the 11th-seeded Huskies (26-9) meet tonight at the Carrier Dome, Bryant's injury will add a bit of mystery to the chess match between both coaches and will require West Virginia coach Bob Huggins to alter his lineup and rotation.
That being said, the Mountaineers have at times gone with five forwards on the court, so the juggling act won't be unfamiliar to Huggins -- even if he isn't going to reveal what his plans are.
"I don't know yet to be honest with you," Huggins said when asked what his lineup will be tonight. "We're still trying to figure out what is the best direction to go."
Huggins' decision won't change Washington's approach according to coach Lorenzo Romar.
He said that while Bryant is "an important player," Mazzulla has played a much bigger role as well as the bulk of the minutes down the stretch and that the Mountaineers have plenty of interchangeable parts.
"I don't know if there needs to be any adjustments," Romar said. "I do know that between [Devin] Ebanks, Butler and [Kevin] Jones, they're pretty good, and those three guys are still playing and they are going to be pretty effective.
"Again, I've been watching coach Huggins' teams for a long time and they are usually able to survive if one player doesn't play well or is in foul trouble, or in this case, maybe not playing."
The two options Huggins most likely will lean on are a lineup with five forwards with Ebanks or Butler at the point or Mazzulla starting at point guard.
Mazzulla has played more than 22 minutes per game over the past four games. Even though he has been coming off the bench, he is one of the Mountaineers most experienced players.
Wednesday, he was asked several times whether he was feeling any pressure to step up, and he jokingly tried to remind reporters that he isn't exactly new to all of this.
"I've never been in a Sweet 16 game before, I don't really know what to expect ..." he said, somewhat sarcastically before he cracked a smile. Mazzulla scored 10 points against Xavier in a Sweet 16 loss in 2008.
"My role doesn't really change," Mazzulla said in a more serious tone. "Obviously, I have to play a little bit smarter to try to stay out of foul trouble, but I'll just try to contribute to the team and do what Huggs ask."
Bryant, who appeared on the stage with his teammates and answered questions said he felt his foot "pop" during practice Tuesday and knew it was bad. He said he'd return to action, likely early summer, but in the meantime he's trying to remain upbeat and positive for his teammates.
"I switched shoes at halftime during the Missouri game when I started to notice my foot was hurting," Bryant said. "[Then at practice] I just backed up. It was bad, I knew I needed an X-ray. It is tough. Of course I want to play; the lights are on, it is a big time of the year and I just wanted to be a part of it.
"But I believe in my team and I know they'll get it done."
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1720. First Published March 25, 2010 4:00 AM