Meltdown in the Steel City
PITTSBURGH - Before West Virginia's NCAA tournament game with Gonzaga, Mountaineer assistant coach Erik Martin sat at the end of his team's bench before many had filed into the Consol Energy Center.
Martin spoke about how the team had to contend with 7-foot Zag center Robert Sacre. He spoke about the youth of Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos, and how that might provide a ray of hope. Then he spoke of the team's practices, leading up to the game, one on Tuesday in Morgantown and those at Duquesne. He made a point of highlighting the last tuneup.
"It might have been our best shootaround of the year," he said.
Figures, eh? Gonzaga was the team that shot the lights out of the CEC, hitting 56 percent of its attempts, while WVU, playing at an arena known for its ice rink, experienced a total meltdown. The Mountaineers shot 32.7 percent, which was an improvement over the halftime percentage of 23.1.
It was ugly for the - for all intents and purposes - home team. The Mountaineers had a decided crowd advantage playing an hour away from Morgantown. But because of the pratfall, the joint was as quiet as the Carnegie Library for most of the night.
"It was a microcosm of our season," said WVU coach Bob Huggins.
He called his offense the "worst" and "inept." He pointed out that the Mountaineers couldn't spread out a defense "because we can't make any shots."
Gonzaga, meanwhile, looked efficient and skilled. And the Zags took control early.
There was serious foreshadowing. WVU guard Truck Bryant, whose fortune so affected the Mountaineers this season, clanked on his first 3-point attempt. Zag freshman guard Kevin Pangos - jitters anyone? - then came down and drilled his first try.
Then it was Gonzaga's Gary Bell for a trey. And Elias Harris for another.
Bryant tried another. And missed. And backup Mountaineer center Dom Rutledge was whistled for a foul on the rebound. So it went for WVU on Thursday. So it went for it for much of the season.
At the first media timeout, 15:49, Huggins had that look on his face. The one that said, "Uh oh." With good reason.
Huggins resorted to trying walk-on Paul Williamson for scoring. When even that didn't work, he looked down his bench. What he found was a bare cupboard.
At halftime, Gonzaga led 40-22. Shortly afterward, the game was over.
The 5,000 or so Mountaineer fans' eyes began to glaze. You could see their stream of consciousness turn into a creek around the 11:37 timeout, with Gonzaga up 57-32. ("Wonder what I could get into at Station Square ... A Primanti Brothers sandwich sounds good ... Hey, at least the Big East won't get more NCAA hoops financial units from WVU ... Um, why do the Mountaineers wear black uniforms?)
Then there were the times it was best for West Virginia fans to simply avert their eyes. The Gonzaga runout with Guy Landry Edi finishing with an emphatic dunk. The five-second call, trying to simply inbound the ball.
And, of course, the constant clanking of the shots. It was the anti-Orange Bowl for WVU. Badly missed shot after badly missed shot. To rub salt in the wound, that was indeed Reggie Miller, he of the deadeye, sitting courtside broadcasting. Ouch.
Perhaps Huggins needs to recruit Canada for shooters. Pangos is from Ontario. Sacre is from North Vancouver, B.C.
He certainly needs help. "I've never been beat like that," Huggins said. "I can't say never, but we were never in the game."
WVU as a school has only been defeated in a more emphatic fashion three other times in NCAA tournament play. It certainly took one back to the 78-57 smackdown in the Final Four at the hands of Duke. But that was Duke; this was Gonzaga.
Perhaps it's merciful, though, that the season has ended. WVU fans have been going bonkers watching this team. No more Bryant one-on-four shot attempts with a 7-footer looming. No more waiting for Jabari Hinds to improve. No more teeth grinding when the ball goes into Deniz Kilicli.
Once again, it's football season in the Mountain State.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.