West Virginia, Butler punch their Final Four ticket; Kobe leads the Lakers’ recovery

By: 03.28.10  •  16 Comments

West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler

For two teams that were ranked in a lot of people’s national Top 10 in the preseason, it still seems like an underdog story for West Virginia and Butler to have made it to the Final Four. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, though, as the Mountaineers and Bulldogs have most of the elements required to succeed in March: Defense, experience, strong guard play, versatility, good coaching, and a couple of legit stars. And perhaps more importantly, both teams got hot at the right time. West Virginia’s win over Kentucky yesterday was their 10th in a row, while Butler’s win over Kansas State was their 24th in a row … Da’Sean Butler led WVU with 18 points against UK, but the MVP was Joe Mazzulla. Starting in place of Truck Bryant, Mazzulla scored 17 and went toe-to-toe with John Wall (19 pts, 9 rebs, 5 asts, 4 stls), giving as good as he got. That one-man fast break where Mazzulla sprinted right at Wall and used a slight shoulder fake to completely lose him on the way to a layup was ill … And Kentucky couldn’t hit ANYTHING from long range. They missed their first 20 threes, and finished 4-for-32 beyond the arc. The Wildcats were able to out-run and gun their opponents earlier in the tourney, but eventually their team-wide shooting slump was gonna come back to bite them. (Weird stat: West Virginia didn’t hit a two-pointer in the first half.) … That should be a wrap for Wall and DeMarcus Cousins in college. Junior PF Patrick Patterson is projected Lottery and will probably go pro, and we’re hearing Eric Bledsoe is considering, too. If they all go, don’t feel bad for Coach Cal, though; he’ll have another stacked recruiting class coming in, plus guys like Daniel Orton, Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins to pick up the slack … And reportedly WVU point guard Bryant said he can play in the Final Four despite breaking a bone in his foot about a week and a half ago. And maybe he can play, but no way he’s 100 percent. If you’re advising the kid, would you push him to play or sit out? Getting to the Final Four doesn’t happen every year, but messing up your foot long-term isn’t the way to go … The big X-factor going into Butler/K-State was whether the 2-seed Wildcats would have enough energy after going to double-overtime with Xavier a couple days earlier. K-State did look worn down at first, but give them credit for battling back. Even with Jacob Pullen (14 pts, 4-13 FG, 6 stls) and Denis Clemente (18 pts, 7-17 FG) not lighting it up like they did against Xavier, K-State had it tied with three minutes left, but Butler responded with a 9-0 run to put them away … Is Gordon Hayward (22 pts, 9 rebs) an NBA player? At 6-9 he’s got more athleticism than people would think just looking at him, but he’s also more of a streaky shooter than a pure shooter. He’s just a sophomore, though, so he’s got time. Watching Hayward drill step-back threes and constantly come up with big plays in big moments — whether it was a bucket or getting a hand on a pass — there’s got to be some NBA teams that can use a player like him … Coming off their worst performance of the season in OKC on Friday, the Lakers were locked in against Houston last night. They went on a 20-0 run in the second quarter to build a sizable cushion, although the Rockets did get the lead down to single-digits in the fourth quarter after Kobe Bryant (17 pts, 10 rebs, 9 asts) sat down. Kobe looks like he’s pacing himself for the playoffs. In the last five games since he hit Sacramento for 30 points on 26 shots on March 16, he hasn’t attempted more than 17 FG’s in a game … Chasing down a loose ball, Ron Artest got his ankle tangled up with Trevor Ariza and hopped around for a minute like he was doing an old-man version of The Jerk. Ron-Ron shook it off and played the rest of the game … Brandon Roy hit the Hornets for 28 points (12-14 FG) on what seemed like a video loop of drives and jumpers out of the post. The loss officially eliminated New Orleans from the playoffs. Now that they have nothing to play for, do you think N.O. should shut Chris Paul down for the rest of the season, or keep playing him if that knee isn’t 100 percent? In no uncertain terms, that’s the franchise right there, and it’s not like Darren Collison can’t lead the team to a respectable finish … Other stat lines from Saturday: Rodrigue Beaubois dropped 40 points on the Warriors in a Dallas rout, hitting 9 threes and adding 3 blocks and 8 rebounds; Taj Gibson put up 22 points and 13 boards as Chicago snapped the Nets’ two-game win streak and prevented that all-important 10th win; and Deron Williams had 20 points and 12 assists, Carlos Boozer had 22 and 10 boards, and Mehmet Okur added 20 and 11 to lead Utah past the Wizards … Duke vs. Baylor and Michigan State vs. Tennessee on the Elite Eight schedule today. Who are your picks? … We’re out like UK …

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