West Virginia Basketball: Lack of shooters, scorers foiled Mountaineers

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INDIANAPOLIS -- West Virginia's run to the Final Four was a testament to the Mountaineers' ability to defend against their opponents as well as their ability to be -- on most nights, at least -- physically tougher.

But, in the end, the Mountaineers' inability to score cost them a chance to win the national championship.

Therefore, recruiting more players with better shooting ability is the next challenge for coach Bob Huggins as he continues to try to mold the program into one of the best in the country.

Still, it is hard to argue with a 31-7 record -- the most wins in school history -- the school's first Big East Conference tournament championship and first trip to the Final Four in 51 years.

Huggins said that coming into the season he knew the team had a chance to be very good, but that by the end of the season it turned into something special.

"We've got great guys," he said. "We thought we had a chance at the beginning of the year to be a good basketball team and we had to fight through some things along the way.

"I think through all of it our guys have done a great job of persevering and working their way through things. They're good guys.

"They're guys who put the team and the welfare of others before themselves. That's a great character to have."

West Virginia's run was impressive, considering that the Mountaineers played most of the season with no real point guard as Joe Mazzulla fought through his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery and Darryl "Truck" Bryant was forced to play out of position as a result.

Bryant then went down with a foot injury before the third round of the NCAA tournament and was lost for the final three games.

Even though he had already given way to Mazzulla before his injury, losing Bryant still left a void at the shooting guard spot and limited Huggins' ability to play matchups.

Huggins had also counted on 6-foot-9 freshman Deniz Kilicli, who is from Istanbul, Turkey, to provide some much-needed scoring in the post.

But Kilicli was ineligible until February and did not progress as much as the coaching staff had hoped.

"I think if Deniz plays the whole year he is a totally different player," Huggins said. "That made it difficult trying to get him involved because he is a guy who can score the ball for us."

Looking ahead, the Mountaineers should be in good shape next year, though they are not likely to be a contender for the Final Four again unless sophomore Devin Ebanks stays in school, which, at this point, does not seem likely.

If Ebanks returns, the Mountaineers will have a core of Ebanks, Mazzulla, Bryant, Kevin Jones and John Flowers. And if Kilicli and guard Casey Mitchell have a big offseason, the team will actually be better offensively.

Huggins also is hoping the NCAA tournament run will help him fill his current recruiting class with a couple of players who are ready to help right away.

There will be two big losses -- Wellington Smith, a defensive stalwart, and, of course, Da'Sean Butler, one of the best players in school history.

Butler is a senior and was a likely NBA draft pick this year before he tore the ACL in his left knee in the Mountaineers' NCAA semifinal loss Saturday night against Duke.

Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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