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Mountain too slippery for WVU

MORGANTOWN - It was windy in much of the state on Friday.

And there were many angles blowing around the start of the Big East game between No. 10 Marquette and West Virginia.

Two were obvious. First, WVU desperately needed a win of note as NCAA tournament time nears. The Mountaineers entered the game No. 44 in the latest Rating Percentage Index.

Second was the angle of Mountaineer senior Kevin Jones. It set up as a showcase for him. Before the game there was a video feature on him. Also, WVU coach Bob Huggins and former school standout Warren Baker awarded him the ball with which he made his 1,000th rebound against Notre Dame.

But one of the angles blew out of nowhere. That was when Marquette coach Buzz Williams decided to sit starters Darius Johnson-Odom, the team's leading scorer averaging 18.7 points, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue for the first half. And, oddly, Huntington native Todd Mayo for the second.

It was obvious WVU needed to make hay in the first half. And it did to some degree, taking a 32-21 halftime advantage. The Mountaineers were struggling to separate until Gary Browne sparked the hosts by poking a ball away, was bumped going out of bounds at the other end, but pushed the ball back to Jones, who slammed the ball.

Then when the three Golden Eagles starters returned - minus, again, oddly, Mayo - one could feel the swing in talent on the floor. And in the momentum.

It was almost as if a big brother had spotted a little brother 11 points before deciding to play for real.

The setup for Jones began to go south. If he had designs on All-America honors, they took a hit against Marquette. He poorly missed a free throw after a Browne steal. Odom converted a trey over him to pull the visitors within 41-37.

Huggins was livid. He called a timeout at 9:14 and laid into Aaron Browne.

It didn't help. It was like watching a hiker who fell on a mountainside holding on by the loosest of grips, slipping, slipping ... and finally falling.

Marquette found an easy path to the basket time after time after time. Cadougan. Then Blue. Then Jae Crowder. The Golden Eagles were aggressive and fast. WVU offered little resistance.

Did the officials allow muggings? Oh yes. But the West Virginia loss was typical of that during the season-ending downturn. In the end, the game was put in the hands of Truck Bryant. His layup attempt from the right side did not go.

Now? Unless WVU rises like a phoenix, especially in the Big East tournament, Huggins' run of NCAA tournament appearances at his alma mater might be over.

The mountainside, perhaps, was a little too steep for this bunch.

  • Before the game, WVU deputy athletic director Mike Parsons was making the rounds. According to him, the payoff to the Big East for an early departure to the Big 12 is by and large paid.
  • "We'd already paid $2.5 million," Parsons said. "We sent $8.5 million last week. They will keep what we are owed from the league, which is close to the other $10 million."

    Parsons also said the new WVU basketball practice facility is by and large complete. On Saturday, a "Blue Jean Bowl" for donors will sort of christen the facility as the first public event.

    "Both teams have been practicing there," Parsons said of the men's and women's teams. "We're tweaking a few things, but mostly it's done. The men's and women's coaches offices will be moved there at the end of the year."

    He added the facility's "Hall of Traditions" will hold an open house soon.

    Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

     

     


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