By Jay Fisher
For the fourth time in Bob Huggins’ tenure, WVU is in the Sweet 16. The earned their ticket to San Jose by knocking off a stubborn Bucknell team, and then controlling Notre Dame in the second round.
Against the Bison, WVU jumped out to an early double digit lead, and it looked like the Mountaineers would cruise to a first round rout. But they started to lose focus, and Bucknell began hitting shots. In particular, Nana Foulland (Bucknell’s center) gave WVU fits during that game. West Virginia was determined, however, to not repeat last year’s first round loss, and they were able to answer every Bucknell run with one of their own. In the end, WVU had a hard fought 86-80 win.
Then came a long-time multi-sport nemesis for WVU: Notre Dame. When the brackets were announced on Selection Sunday, the talking heads seemed to gloss over the Mountaineers. Instead, they went on about a Notre Dame-Gonzaga matchup, and some “experts” even had the Irish in the final four. WVU garnered nary a mention.
Well, the Mountaineers jumped out to a 10-0 lead, and never looked back. The Irish were able to close the gap several times, but Notre Dame never led, and never even tied the game. This was one of WVU’s better all-around games of the year. Their defensive pressure was able to force several turnovers, and kept the Irish from getting in a rhythm throughout the game. And WVU was able to shot pretty well, especially from the foul line.
Next up is top-seeded Gonzaga. The Bulldogs lost only once this year, and sport non-conference wins over a couple Sweet 16 teams (Florida and Arizona). Their starting center is a 7-1, 320 behemoth from Poland named Przemek Karnowski. His backup is another 7-footer named Zac Collins, and he’s probably the better player. (for good measure, the Zags have a third seven-footer who also sees action). So the WVU big men will have their work cut out. Gonzaga also has a talented backcourt, led by Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Matthews. Those two are three-point threats, along with Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. In short, these Bulldogs are for real. They have an efficient offense that can score inside and outside, and a very solid defense. WVU will need its “A” game, but the upset can happen.
The women’s team had its season come to an end in Maryland. The sixth-seeded Mountaineers handled Elon in the first round, but fell to the homestanding Terps in the second round.
The gymnastics team finished third at the Big 12 Championships. They finished behind a pair of top-10 teams, Oklahoma and Denver. They have also clinched a spot in the NCAA Regionals, which means they will host five other teams in Morgantown on April 1, at 4:00. (Those teams were announced Monday)
Notes: The WVU-Gonzaga game will tip-off at 7:39 on Thursday. It will be televised on TBS…If WVU wins, they will face the winner of Arizona-Xavier on Saturday. The time will be wither 6:00 or 8:30, and will be on TBS also. The time would be announced after all four of the Thursday games are complete.