I have never hated Duke.
I have never hated Coach K.
I don't mind dynasties; I respect sustained excellence.
And I always thought that opponents' complaints that Duke gets all the calls to be nothing more than loser-whining.
In West Virginia's mannish 73-67 whipping of Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, which I was fortunate to attend, the referees put on a jaw-dropping display of biased officiating in the first half.
The refs—Mike Sanzere, Tom Eades, and Ed Hightower—called the game too tight in general for my liking.
But in the first half, it surely appeared as if they were actively aiding Duke.
Never mind that Duke ended up shooting 10 more free throws for the game. It was the non-calls on Duke players holding, hacking, and fouling WVU players that were just as bad.
It's clear I'm a WVU fan. But readers of this blog know that I try to view my team with a clear eye and call them out when they deserve it. I am not a homer. The Duke-biased officiating in the first half was apparent even to impartial observers around me at the Verizon Center.
One said, "WVU can't even breathe on a Duke player" without getting called for a foul.
Bob Huggins even drew a technical foul IN HIS OWN HUDDLE during a timeout. So frustrated was Huggins at one point during the first half, he yelled out toward the Duke players, "They don't foul! They don't foul! I know that!"
So the execrable officiating that WVU had to overcome only made the WVU win that much sweeter.
WVU was bigger, stronger, and tougher than Duke at every position. When allowed to play, the Big East battle-tested Mountaineers overcame the softer Dookies.
Forward Joe Alexander was the titular star of the game with his 22 points, but backup point guard Joe Mazzulla was the tough heart of this win, nearly recording a triple-double.
Alex Ruoff hit the two biggest three-point shots of his life, the first a fallaway as the shot clock expired and the second to extend WVU's lead.
Working with one hand tied behind his back by the refs—Wellington Smith and Da'Sean Butler each had four fouls early in the second half and rode the bench—Huggins used his bench brilliantly, even putting in 6'4", 220-pound Jarrett Brown, WVU's heavily muscled backup quarterback, toward the end of the first half, to provide a little intimidation.
But Huggins's smartest substitution moves came in the last three minutes of the game, when Duke was forced to start fouling WVU.
Huggins alternated backup forward Cam Thoroughman—a grisly rebound-grabber—with ball-stingy guard Johnnie West (yes, the son of that guy). The idea was to have Thoroughman in the game at the defensive end to grab missed Duke shots and the sharrpshooting West in the game on the offensive end to get fouled and go to the line.
Some of the stats in the box score look like misprints:
— WVU out-rebounded Duke 47-27. That's just astounding.
— WVU shot only 40 percent from the field, but held Duke to 38 percent.
— Duke, which made its living this season on three-pointers, made only five of 22 three-point attempts.
Huggins, whose hiring I opposed because of his reputation, has turned this John Beilein team of shooters into a team of shooters, rebounders, and defenders. And I like to think that Beilein was watching and smiling when WVU executed a couple of his beautiful backdoor layups.
Now it's on to Phoenix. Lest WVU fans forget, Phoenix was very good to WVU the last time it showed up there. Just ask Oklahoma.