Mountaineers’ win ugly but still pretty sweet

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – As 13-point, Sweet 16 victories go, West Virginia over Washington (69-56) was particularly ugly. The Mountaineers lost their starting point guard this week with a broken foot and they responded with 23 turnovers.

It was an utter slop fest. And Bob Huggins loved it.

”At halftime I [told the team], ‘Maybe we’re going to lose, I don’t know,”’ Huggins, the WVU coach, said. ”But if we’re going to lose, let’s lose our way. Let’s lose doing what we do.”

West Virginia committed 23 turnovers but its 49-29 rebounding advantage was too much for Washington to overcome.
(Richard Mackson / US PRESSWIRE)

So that little bit of locker room inspiration probably won’t go down in the annals of Rockne or Lombardi, but, then again, it worked.

West Virginia’s way is defense and rebounding, which is about as glamorous as mining coal. In other words, it’s perfectly West Virginian because no one does it better than the guys from Morgantown.

The Mountaineers advanced to the East Regional final Saturday thanks to a 49-29 rebounding advantage (including a whooping 23 offensive boards). They got there because they forced Washington, which wasn’t missing its starting point guard, into 21 turnovers.

They are now one win from the Final Four because their defensive toughness so frustrated the Huskies that they spent most of the second half arguing with officials (coach Lorenzo Romar even whipped off his jacket, earning a technical).

West Virginia simply muscled its way to this one, outscoring the Huskies on second-chance points 17-0.

”Our best chance at making a shot is missing one first,” cracked Da’Sean Butler.

The Mountaineers were supposed to be in trouble because starting point guard Darryl ”Truck” Bryant broke his foot in practice Tuesday. Bryant isn’t the smoothest point guard, but he was the best WVU had. With him out, ball-handing duties fell on a committee of comedy.

The Mountaineers dribbled it off their legs, threw the ball into the scorer’s table and, on a couple occasions, just passed it right to the Huskies.

”We did a very poor job of taking care of the ball,” Butler said.

”It was tremendously uncomfortable,” said Devin Ebanks, who had eight turnovers. ”Especially this time of the year, when you’re not used to bringing the ball up. Losing our point guard was a very big blow.”

It may still catch up with West Virginia, which was aided by an uninspired Washington performance. A serious opponent, which is the only kind left, won’t fold so easily. Up next is Kentucky.

Huggins knows that. He also knows that when his teams are at their best it’s not about what they do, it’s about how they do what they do.

”We want to be the last one standing,” he said. ”Period.”

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Mar 25, 2010