Final Four showdown pits West Virginia against Duke

April 3, 2010

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Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) – Having successfully navigated the NCAA Tournament field to reach the Final Four, West Virginia and Duke will square off in Indianapolis on Saturday night, with the winner earning the right to take on either Butler or Michigan State for the national title on Monday.

The Duke Blue Devils won the South Region with impressive victories over Arkansas-Pine Bluff (73-44), California (68-53), Purdue (70-57) and finally Baylor (78-71). With the win over the Bears, Duke advanced to its 15th all- time Final Four and 11th under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils rank fourth in NCAA Tournament history with 92 tournament victories, with their .754 winning percentage (92-30) ranking first all-time. Duke and Mike Krzyzewski won their first NCAA championship in 1991 in Indianapolis.

Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers will do their best to end Duke’s run. Second-seeded West Virginia has fought through tournament adversity with the loss of its starting point guard in this event, but still won the East Regional by ousting top-seeded Kentucky in the Elite Eight, 73-66. The win capped off a brilliant run through the East Region that saw victories over Morgan State (77-50), Missouri (68-59) and Washington (69-56) as well. Unlike Duke, West Virginia’s Final Four resume’ is a little light, with this year marking just the second appearance in school history and the first since 1959. That year, West Virginia made it to the championship game led by Jerry West before falling to California, 71-70.

This is the 25th meeting between these two teams, with Duke holding a 17-7 series advantage, thanks to wins in nine of the last 13 meetings. This is the third time these squads will have met in NCAA Tournament play. Duke posted a 70-63 win in the second round of the 1989 event, while West Virginia returned the favor (73-67) in the second round in 2008.

Sophomore point guard Darryl Bryant has been a integral part of West Virginia’s success this season, but a broken bone in his right foot suffered in practice last week will probably keep him sidelined the rest of the way, a thought coach Huggins is starting to warm up to.

“Stranger things have happened, but I’d be shocked if he did (play).”

Without Bryant in the lineup, Huggins has inserted Joe Mazzulla among the starting five. This is a team however, that still revolves around the electric play of guard Da’Sean Butler. The senior is tops on the team in scoring (17.4 ppg) and assists (117), is tied for the lead in steals (36) and ranks third in rebounding (6.3 rpg). Forwards Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks give the team a pair of solid frontcourt options. Jones is converting 52.4 percent from the floor, while averaging 13.7 points and 7.2 rpg. Ebanks adds 12.0 ppg and is tops on the team in rebounding (8.2 rpg). The Mountaineers shot 57.1 percent from the floor in the second half and took advantage of Kentucky’s cold shooting (4-of-32 from behind the arc) in winning the East Region and advancing to the Final Four. Butler led four Mountaineers in double figures with 18 points. Mazzulla came up big as well, pouring in 17 points, while Jones and Ebanks chipped in with 13 and 12 points, respectively.

West Virginia’s magical season is something that the players are very conscious of, including Jones.

“This is definitely a special time to be from West Virginia University. It’s a special opportunity and we’re going to take it as such. We’re going to go out there and play our hearts out for the team and the university.”

Duke has also achieved a great deal this season and its 33 victories are a testament to the team’s group effort, something that Coach K is extremely proud of.

“It’s not about the moments that I’ve been in, it’s the moments that your players put you in right now,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m really happy for this group. …It’s as close a team as I’ve had. You want great things to happen for people who are great with us.”

The Blue Devils didn’t exactly shoot the lights out against Baylor in the Elite Eight, but offset a .361 performance from the floor by converting 11 three-pointers to earn the victory and move on to yet another Final Four. The backcourt tandem of Nolan Smith and Second-Team All-American Jon Scheyer was simply unstoppable, combining for 49 points against Baylor. Smith was 9-of-17 from the floor for a career-high 29 points. Scheyer hit five three-pointers and finished with 20 points. One glaring problem in the game was the play of standout forward Kyle Singler, who missed all 10 of his shots and finished with a mere five points. Despite the poor performance, Singler is still both a potent scorer and rebounder, averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Scheyer and Smith are as productive a backcourt as there is in the country. Scheyer is both a prolific scorer (18.2 ppg, 104 three-pointers) and deft distributor (183 assists, 4.8 per game). Smith can also fill up the basket (17.4 ppg).

WVU’s Butler is aware of Duke’s dangerous trio.

“They do all the right things, and do what their coach asks them to do, and are successful for it. “They’ve beaten a lot of good teams to be here, and their big three are very good. They do a lot of scoring, and the other two starters do all the dirty work.”

Still, this game will come down to fundamentals and rebounding will be a huge key.

“You have to be determined to play missed shots,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know how many teams in the United States rebound more than 40 percent of their misses like both of us do.”


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