- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

West Virginia was controlling the offensive glass, but that was about the only thing the Mountaineers were doing well in the first half of their NCAA tournament second-round game against Duke yesterday at Verizon Center.

Three-point shooting: missed all six attempts.

Easy layups: at least five errant inside shots.

Turnovers: eight.

Quality of play: not good enough.

Fortunate to be trailing by only five points, the Mountaineers heard it from Bob Huggins in the locker room.

“He was straight to the point,” guard Alex Ruoff said. “He said we couldn’t play any worse. That was a wake-up call. We really got the message and came out ready to go.”

Consider Huggins’ message received.

Led by double-doubles from leading scorer Joe Alexander and super-sub Joe Mazzulla and aided by the second-seeded Blue Devils’ horrid perimeter shooting, the Mountaineers advanced with a convincing 73-67 win.

Seventh-seeded West Virginia (26-10) will play No. 3 seed Xavier in a West Region semifinal Thursday in Phoenix.

The Mountaineers trailed by eight points early in the second half before turning the game around and eventually leading by 13 points.

Alexander led the Mountaineers with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Mazzulla took over at point guard when Darris Nichols got in foul trouble and contributed 13 points and 11 rebounds. West Virginia outrebounded Duke 47-27.

“The star on that was number 3, no question about that,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Mazzulla, whose previous career high was six rebounds.

Alexander and Ruoff weren’t bad, either. Alexander’s 3-pointer with 13 minutes remaining — only his 11th of the season — put the Mountaineers ahead for good, and Ruoff scored 17 points.

West Virginia sealed the game by hitting nine of its 10 free throws in the final three minutes.

Duke took a 10-point lead in the first half with a 14-0 run that included two 3-pointers by Greg Paulus. The Blue Devils hit two of their first three long-range shots … then made only three of their final 19, including a stretch of 15 consecutive misfires.

In four of Duke’s first five losses, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins noted, the Blue Devils made fewer than eight 3-pointers, so his defensive game plan was to challenge as many perimeter shots as possible.

“We thought it was key how many 3s they got off,” Huggins said. “When they make those 3s and get people spread out, that’s when they can drive to the basket and get to the line.”

Duke’s field goal percentage (.380) was its second worst and the 3-point percentage (.227) was its third worst of the season.

“No matter how well or how hard you play, you need to put the ball in the basket,” Krzyzewski said. “We rely on our 3-point shooting, and we had good looks. But you need to shoot a better percentage.”

West Virginia erased an eight-point deficit with a quick 8-0 run capped by an off-balance 3-pointer by Ruoff as the shot clock expired.

“[Ruoff’s] shot in particular was part of a run that gave us a lot of momentum and confidence,” Alexander said. “His shooting was giving Duke a tough time, and that made it easier for us to get in the lane.”

Said Ruoff: “It was an answered prayer.

While West Virginia was playing efficiently on offense, Duke went cold. Gerald Henderson’s jumper at the 8:29 mark made it 51-46 West Virginia. The Blue Devils’ next basket didn’t come until 1:55 remained, cutting the lead to 11 points.

The last time Duke failed to reach the second weekend in consecutive years was 1996 and 1997. The Blue Devils (28-6) were led by Henderson’s 18 points.

“Our kids were really ready to play,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re just really disappointed it didn’t translate into a winning performance.”

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