The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

April 4, 2010

Don’t forget WVU’s numerous achievements this season

MORGANTOWN — Let’s face it. Duke was too tough of a basketball nut for West Virginia University to crack in the Mountaineers’ 78-57 loss Saturday in the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis.

The very talented, tall and sharp-shooting Blue Devils, 34-5, were the only No. 1-seeded club still left in the 65-team tourney and deservedly advanced for a shot at another national championship. WVU was the only remaining No. 2 seed before bowing.

Duke should be a solid favorite to defeat home-standing Butler (33-4) tonight for the national title as a perennial power in NCAA Division I basketball circles.

The Blue Devils clearly dominated WVU in virtually every play phase. They shot 52.7 percent from the field (29-of-55) to 41.3 percent (19-of-46), including 13-of-25 shots from 3-point range — the most given up by WVU this season.

Duke also had a total of 29 rebounds to 27 and committed only six turnovers to WVU’s 10.

Duke was clearly dominating the action before WVU lost senior leader Da’Sean Butler to a knee injury midway through the second half. The All-American initially thought it was a sprained knee, but it turned out more serious after further inspection.

Further tests revealed he suffered an ACL tear in his left knee. Butler underwent an MRI at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis on Sunday.

The injury occurred with 8:59 left in the game against Duke. The MRI also revealed an MCL sprain and two bone bruises.

Despite the deeply disappointing defeat, the worst of the season at 21 points, West Virginia still emerged as one of the top basketball teams that the university has ever fielded.

The growing number of West Virginia fans certainly should not forget the many achievements that third-year head coach Bob Huggins, his staff and his players posted for their tireless work during this memorable season.

For starters, the 31 victories are the most in school history, topping the 29 by the Jerry West-led 1958-59 team that finished as runner-up to California by a mere point, 71-70, in the NCAA championship game.

This was only the second time a West Virginia team ever advanced to the Final Four of the the NCAA Tournament.

Assistant coach Billy Haun said after commenting on the game against Duke afterward, “We’ll be back.”

Those courageous members of that 1959 team, just as those on the current squad will, suffered for several days because of having come so close to winning it all. Despite this, however, they will have pleasant memories of the many positive things that happened during this now-closed season.

This year’s team had two winning streaks, an 11-0 run at the start of the season and a 10-game success string before Duke snapped the streak. It also captured the school’s first-ever Big East Tournament championship and was the NCAA East Regional champion of the NCAA Tournament, knocking off No. 1-seeded Kentucky, a pick by many to win the national title.

West Virginia has won 18 of its last 23 games televised by CBS. This was the Gold and Blue’s 23rd NCAA appearance and the third postseason under the Huggins regime in as many years.

WVU also win the 76 Classic, a prestigious holiday tournament in Anaheim, Calif.

Butler, 6-foot-8 superstar from Newark N.J., became the third-leading scorer in school history with 2,095 career points. He joins legendary Jerry West (2,309) and Hot Rod Hundley (2,180) as WVU’s only 2,000-point scorers. West and Hundley did it in only three years of varsity competition.

The Mountaineers finished No. 6 in the final Associated Press poll, the highest since 1982 when West Virginia earned a No. 5 spot. WVU tied for second place in the Big East regular-season standings (13-5), its best-ever performance in the league.

Butler added to his lengthy list of honors Saturday when named Lowe’s player of the year. That was based not only on basketball ability, but academics and community service. Earlier, he had been named MVP of the 76 Classic holiday event and Big East Tournament. Butler made six game-winning shots as a senior.

Point guard Joe Mazzulla was the MVP of the NCAA East Regional.

Huggins became the second head coach in WVU history to win 20 or more games in each of his first three years. The late George King was the other (1961-63). Huggins has 24 20-win seasons in 28 years as a Division I mentor.

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