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Mountaineers Leap to the Elite

West Virginia Will Face Louisville In Region Final: West Virginia 65, Texas Tech 60

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page D05

ALBUQUERQUE, March 24 -- West Virginia Coach John Beilein beat the man whose clinics he used to attend more than 30 years ago, putting his Mountaineers team one step from a Final Four berth few could have envisioned three weeks ago, much less at the beginning of the season.

The seventh-seeded Mountaineers advanced to their first region final since 1959 by beating Bob Knight's sixth-seeded Texas Tech team, 65-60, Thursday night at the Pit. West Virginia will play fourth-seeded Louisville in Saturday's region final.


Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight tries to get his point across to Jarrius Jackson in the loss to West Virginia. (Jake Schoellkopf -- AP)

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"We are not one of the powerhouses -- Duke or North Carolina -- yet," West Virginia's Patrick Beilein said. "But we like being under the radar."

For the Mountaineers (24-10), it was their third consecutive dramatic game in the NCAA tournament. West Virginia was a play away from not even being in the round of 16. It took a dunk in the final seconds to beat Creighton in the first round and a remarkable rally from a 13-point halftime deficit to topple second-seeded Wake Forest in double overtime in the second round.

"I've used the word 'thrill' three times already," John Beilein said. "But that's the best way to describe it for our school and the state."

Thursday night's contest was a well-played affair between two star-less teams and two men generally considered among the country's best college game coaches.

Texas Tech's Devonne Giles scored a layup to bring the Red Raiders within two points with just more than a minute remaining. On Tech's next possession, the Red Raiders (22-11) missed four opportunities to tie the score on shots or tip-in attempts.

West Virginia center Kevin Pittsnogle scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half to lead the Mountaineers. He also made two crucial free throws with 17 seconds remaining to put West Virginia up by four points.

"Coach told me to think about my wife," Pittsnogle said. "And that kind of cheered me up."

West Virginia made six of its first nine three-point attempts Thursday to take a 22-14 lead with 11 minutes 38 seconds remaining in the first half. West Virginia forward Mike Gansey, who scored 29 points against Wake Forest, made three consecutive three-pointers during that stretch.

Texas Tech had demonstrated tremendous poise in not panicking when it trailed third-seeded Gonzaga by 13 points in the second round.

Knight's team had continued to methodically execute its motion offense as if at a clinic.

The Red Raiders remained calm even as Ronald Ross, Tech's leading scorer and a Hobbs, N.M., native, made only 3 of 11 shots in the first half. Ross, who had four steals, scored several baskets in transition in the second half to finish with a team-high 16 points.

"The turnovers we had were very uncharacteristic of our team," Patrick Beilein said of West Virginia's 17 turnovers. "They have some of the quickest hands I have ever seen in the country, Ross does."

After the strong start Thursday, the Mountaineers found a shooting slump, especially from the perimeter. They did not make a field goal for nearly seven minutes, missing five consecutive three-pointers during that stretch.

Curtis Marshall's three-pointer gave the Red Raiders a 26-24 lead with 2:53 left in the half. Then West Virginia's Tyrone Sally, who had scored the winning dunk to beat Creighton in the first round, converted a three-point play to end the field goal drought.

"Our defense was excellent," John Beilein said. "And that allowed us to stay in the game even when we could not get our offense going."

Pittsnogle scored six of the Mountaineers' first eight points in the second half, giving his team a brief four-point advantage. Ross soon answered with back-to-back baskets in transition to tie the score.

The game went back and forth with a rhythm befitting teams with well-run offenses. Both teams shot well late, but West Virginia proved far more effective from three-point range, making nine.

"On offense," Knight said, "they have really good movement."


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