LOUISVILLE, Ky. - All things considered, West Virginia probably did everything it possibly could have done Wednesday night in an effort to upset No. 23 Louisville in the Cardinals' shiny new arena.
The Mountaineers had a Joe Mazzulla-fueled first-half run that gave them command of the game.
They overcame Louisville's own surge and a four-field goal second half - yes just four baskets - to take the lead back in the closing seconds.
And then West Virginia played it-couldn't-have-been-any-better defense in the final 25 seconds while the Cardinals desperately tried to get off any kind of shot to win the thing.
Yet it was all for naught because a play that had almost no chance to succeed, well, succeeded.
Louisville's Peyton Siva drove the lane in the midst of heavy traffic as the clock ran down and tossed up a one-in-a-million scoop shot that went four feet above the rim, but when gravity brought it back down it swished through the net with 4.5 seconds to play.
Then when Dalton Pepper's running 3-pointer from 25 feet missed the mark at the buzzer, the short-handed Mountaineers lost a 55-54 decision in front of a crowd of 21,957 at the new KFC Yum! Center.
Cam Thoroughman, one of just seven Mountaineers who played, summed it up best.
"That's the kind of shot we want someone to shoot, I guess,'' Thoroughman said. "But you've got to give him credit. He made it.''
But it's hard not to give the Mountaineers a lot of credit, too. Playing with a roster of just eight scholarship players after leading scorer Casey Mitchell was suspended and Dan Jennings quit the team, West Virginia nearly pulled off a shocking upset.
"You've just got to kind of forget about a game like this,'' said Mazzulla, who had a career-high 18 points without scoring in the second half. "We did a lot of good things I suppose, but we didn't do enough.''
The loss came in the first of a two-game road trip for the Mountaineers (13-6, 4-3 Big East), who afterward discovered that they really are on a two-game road trip. Scheduled to return to Morgantown after the game, their charter flight was cancelled because they could not land at a snowed-in airport in Clarksburg, Instead, the team will bus to Cincinnati today and stay there until Saturday night's game with thee Bearcats.
Louisville (16-4, 5-2) improved to 14-2 at home.
The difference in this one - aside from Siva's miraculous shot at the end - was probably West Virginia's inability to deal with Louisville's constant pressure in the second half and the Mountaineers' own icy shooting when they did break that press. Louisville trailed 42-31 with 15 minutes to play before a 17-1 run gave it command and juiced up the crowd.