Heartbreaking loss won't detract from WVU's season

Updated: March 27, 2005, 12:57 AM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Rick Pitino knows the feeling that John Beilein had all too well.

He equated West Virginia losing its 20-point lead to what he went through when Duke beat Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight in Philadelphia.

"The only bad thing [about Louisville's 93-85 overtime victory over West Virginia Saturday] was going to shake hands of John Beilein and the West Virginia players because I know what they're feeling," Pitino said. "I felt great but shaking the hands of their players was very difficult."

West Virginia had one of the most impressive runs in the tournament. The Mountaineers beat Creighton on a dunk. They took out Wake Forest in double overtime. They outlasted Texas Tech in the Sweet 16. And then they made 10 3s in the first half and 18 overall and still lost in overtime to Louisville in the Elite Eight.

West Virginia native Kevin Pittsnogle couldn't miss. He made 6-of-8 3s and was constantly a matchup problem. Pitino said after the game that he has rarely seen a team with four players who could make 3s, let alone five and a starting center (Pittsnogle) who could knock them down at will without much spacing.

"This has been a great experience to come from West Virginia and be able to play and represent the state like this as a West Virginia player," Pittsnogle said. "I've had a great time. We've had a great season and next year we'll hopefully do the same."

And teams could end up getting "Pittsnogled" as one fan's sign read, holding it up every time the Mountaineers center made a 3-pointer.

But he wasn't alone as seven players made at least one 3.

Patrick Beilein had one 3-pointer off the glass from the corner of Louisville's bench and he had a near 30-foot 3-pointer from the coach's box right by Pitino.

"Usually that's a pretty good game," Beilein said of the Mountaineers making 18 3s. "I haven't coached against … I shouldn't say … I have coached against the likes of these guys before but maybe this game is a 20-point loss if we don't shoot that well because they were so talented."

West Virginia earned lots of respect with this game and this run. The two teams will likely meet in the Big East next season (not everyone plays each team in the 16-game schedule in the 16-team Big East).

After the game, an official from the Big East said he never would have dreamed that a Louisville-West Virginia game could end up being a marquee game for next season. But ESPN, ABC or CBS will definitely covet this matchup. The Mountaineers and Beilein have garned national respect from the likes of Wake Forest's Skip Prosser, Texas Tech's Bob Knight and now Pitino. Their 1-3-1 zone has been dubbed one of the toughest to play against and their offense one of the most finely tuned of any team in the country. They have been deemed a team that plays the right way without all the hype and fanfare of having All-Americans and summer-league baggage.

West Virginia only loses two contributing seniors -- Tryone Sally and D'or Fischer. The Mountaineers could enter next season as one of the favorites (along with Villanova and Connecticut) in the Big East.

"The way we lost the game was tough," said West Virginia's Mike Gansey. "But we had a great season. It was a tough game. Louisville is a great team. They made the plays they needed to make but we had a great year."

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com