West Virginia is off to its first Final Four since 1959 after a 73-66 victory over No. 1 seed Kentucky in the East Regional final Saturday night.
Junior guard Joe Mazzulla scored a career-high 17 points in his first start this season and West Virginia handled a cold-shooting Kentucky team stocked with future NBA players almost from the opening tip in the win.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins, back with his alma mater, is in the Final Four for the first time since taking Cincinnati in 1992.
Kentucky was awful from 3-point range, missing its first 20 attempts and finishing a miserable 4-of-32. West Virginia went the other way, making eight 3-pointers in the first half without a 2-point basket.
The second-seeded Mountaineers used the same aggressive, in-your-face defense that led them to their three previous tournament wins. West Virginia denied Kentucky easy shots by committing fouls and forcing Kentucky to make free throws, which didn’t happen.
The Wildcats went 16-of-29 from the line.
“We made it very difficult for them to see open cutters and just make plays in general,” West Virginia guard Da’Sean Butler told ESPN.
Other than an 11-0 run early, the Wildcats were wildly ineffective all game. Darius Miller missed all six shots, and Patrick Patterson and Eric Bledsoe were a combined 6-for-16.
Mazzulla, meanwhile, played the game of his life just when West Virginia needed it.
Hindered by a surgically repaired shoulder, the backup guard came off the bench in 35 games this season and averaged 2.2 points per game before exploding against Kentucky. He started Saturday only because point guard Darryl Bryant broke his right foot Tuesday in practice.
Mazzulla thanked Huggins for sticking with him as he recovered from his injury.
“He still gave me a role,” Mazzulla said to ESPN. “That kind of helped my perseverance.”
The Mountaineers hit 8 of 15 on 3-pointers in the first half, yet went 0-for-6 on 2-pointers. Not inside, not mid-range, not from anywhere except beyond the arc.
West Virginia will play Duke, the No. 1 seed out of the South Region Saturday in Indianapolis. The Blue Devils beat No. 3 seed Baylor, 78-71, Sunday and advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 2004.
Michigan State and Final Four-host Butler will meet in the other national semifinal.
Syracuse shocked by streaking Butler
Junior guard Willie Veasley’s 3-pointer and tip-in in the final minute helped Butler advance to the West regional final for the first time in school history in the Bulldogs’ 63-59 victory over one-seeded Syracuse Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
Butler held the Orange without a point from the time Syracuse went up by four with 5:23 left until a too-little-too-late layup with 35 seconds remaining.
Gordon Hayward scored 17 points and started the celebration while dribbling out the clock after the Bulldogs forced Syracuse into its 18th turnover.
Butler completed its shocking run to the Final Four with a 63-56 victory over No. 2 seed Kansas State Saturday night and will face Michigan State Saturday in its home city of Indianapolis.
Player of the week
Joe Mazzulla, West Virginia, Jr., G
Mazzulla rarely showed up in the box score this season for the Mountaineers but was instrumental in leading his team over Kentucky Saturday night. Mazzulla, who is filling in for the injured Darryl Bryant, scored a career-high 17 points in his first start. He provided energy for the team on and off the court, often seen on all fours in front of the bench slamming the floor in encouragement.
Points per game: 2.6
Assists per game: 2.4
Rebounds per game: 1.8
Field goal percentage: 36.7
Free throw percentage: 57.1
Three point percentage: 12.5