WVU's Multiple Challenges Prove Too Much To Overcome

SAN JOSE, Calif. - The trifecta of challenges West Virginia was forced to overcome in its Sweet 16 match-up against Gonzaga included a blend of opposing ability and its very own shortcomings, among others.

In examining the 61-58 loss, one has to first credit the Bulldogs. Known for their offensive firepower, Gonzaga instead turned to its defense in holding WVU to a season-low 58 points and just 16 field goals. The Zags' length, combined with solid man defense and the ability to mix in a dose of the zone was just enough for head coach Mark Few's program to reach its second Elite Eight in three seasons.

But West Virginia wasn't helped by the choppy play, the lack of flow, the continual stoppages, and, as head coach Bob Huggins said, the attempt to avoid the continual parade to the foul line. 

"Let me try to put this as succinctly as I can," Huggins said. "You know my dad was a hell of a coach. My dad is in every hall of fame there is in Ohio. And my dad used to tell me there's a game within a game. And I'm, like, 'I don't understand what that means.' He said, well, there's a lot of things you have to adjust to. You have to adjust to their personnel. You have to adjust to their scheme of things, what they're trying to do. And then you have to officiate how the game's going to be called. And you know and we've done that all year.

"There's times, we backed off because you don't want a continual parade to the foul line. So you have to back it off some. And you know sometimes you can go at it a little harder. It's not as black and white as people would like to think that it is."

That was the case against Gonzaga as well. Sure, the Mountaineers wanted to muck up the affair, turn it into a grinder and force the Zags to play WVU's style.  It was successful, holding GU to 18 makes on 44 attempts, just 40.9 percent shooting. It controlled the boards, especially on the offensive end where it amassed a 20 to 7 edge that segued into a 19-6 advantage in second chance points. And as the game came to a close, West Virginia was where it wanted to be, leading 58-55 and then 58-57 with chances to extend the cushion.

But the Mountaineers were also forced out of much of what they wanted to do. The sheer size of Gonzaga forced WVU away from the rim. Their shooting abilty snapped any idea of running the 1-3-1, which was immediately dissected by the Bulldogs for a pair of three-pointers on a trio of possessions. And the ability to contend with West Virginia's physical play is a feather in the cap to the West Coast Conference champs.

"I feel like it was a long year, and it sucks to end like this," forward Elijah Macon said. "Nobody wants to lose, but all the hard work we put in during the summer and throughout the year, it's hard to lose like this."

Like in multiple other games this season, the Mountaineers couldn't quite put the polish on the gritty game, Gonzaga finishing with the final six points and leaving one to ponder the possibilities of not only being able to make a few more shots in this one, but in the season overall.

"It's how it has been all year playing in the Big 12," Macon said. "We have had plenty of leads in big games and kinda blew it toward the end."

The biggest, pending perspective, being this game or Kansas. Does a couple more wins, say the ability to hold off both both Kansas State and KU in the Sunflower State, elevate the seeding, change the Sweet 16 match-up? It's all a series or rather pointless what-ifs following a game which will linger for a quite awhile, if only because it there for the winning.

That's often the margin in the NCAA Tournament, however. Flip a coin and the entire field could look vastly different. Michigan and Arizona could still be in, West Virginia as well. It's a hell of a thing to behold, though there might be no more difficult aspect of athletics than the gradual acceptance that the experience, now over, can never be duplicated again.

"Now we worry about staying focused and work on the things we have to work on during the offseason," said Macon, a junior who was asked if he would return for next year. "As of now, yes. Maybe family, if anything (could change the decision). That's the only thing in the way. I have talked to Huggs about it and of now I am looking forward to coming back. I'm not looking to go anywhere else."

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