for this game

Big second half leads West Virginia to upset of Duke

Mar 23, 2008 - 4:45 AM WASHINGTON (Ticker) -- Joe Alexander and West Virginia have been overlooked for most of the season. That will not happen anymore.

Alexander scored 22 points Saturday as West Virginia stunned second-seeded Duke, 73-67, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's West Regional.

Alex Ruoff added 15 of his 17 points in the second half for the seventh-seeded Mountaineers (26-10), who completely outplayed the Blue Devils after intermission, taking the lead in the first six minutes and never looking back.

With the win, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001. The Mountaineers will face Xavier in Phoenix on Thursday.

The Mountaineers also reached the "Sweet 16" for the third time in the last four years, upping the Big East's record in the tournament to 8-1.

"The Big East is a great league," Huggins said. "When you get schools with the tradition and the players, it's a great league and it does help prepare you for the NCAAs."

It was that great league that did not think that much of West Virginia in the preseason, picking it to place 10th in the preseason poll.

However, the Mountaineers won six of their last eight regular-season games to finish fifth in the conference and sealed an at-large bid by knocking off then-No. 17 Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

"First of all, Bob (Huggins), this is his first year there," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of West Virginia's improvement. "I just think they know each other well now. Bob's system, he's got good players. They just looked very comfortable with one another."

Being from the rugged Big East, Alexander and West Virginia were prepared to battle on the boards, finishing with a 47-27 advantage, including 19-7 on the offensive end.

Alexander and unlikely hero Joe Mazzulla had 11 rebounds each.

"They got, what, 20 - 19 offensive rebounds," Krzyzewski said. "To me that was the story of the game is second and third chances."

Gerald Henderson scored 18 points and Jon Scheyer added 15 for Duke (28-6), which missed 15 straight 3-pointers at one point en route to finishing 5-of-22 (23 percent) from the arc.

For the second straight year, Duke has failed to make it to the "Sweet 16."

Duke got out to a strong start, scoring 14 of the game's first 18 points inside the first six minutes. Greg Paulus sank a pair of 3-pointers in that opening stretch for the Blue Devils.

That would be the end of Duke's offense from deep until there was just 1:55 left in the contest, when Henderson's 3-pointer cut the Blue Devils' deficit to 66-55.

Huggins made sure to key in on defending Duke from long range, noticing a pattern its previous losses during the season.

"In four of their five losses, they made less than eight threes and we thought that was key," Huggins said.

"I think we matched up very well," Ruoff said. "They may like the threes more than we do. We like to go inside to Joe (Alexander) first and work inside-out."

Duke was able to protect its lead until halftime, holding a 34-29 edge, but it would soon disappear thanks in apart to Mazzulla.

Averaging just 5.6 points entering, Mazzulla had the game of his young career, scoring 13 points, grabbing a career high in rebounds and handing out eight assists.

"The real story, though, is Mazzulla," Krzyzewski said. "That kid was fabulous. He looked like a mini Jason Kidd out there, getting rebounds and assists and points and toughness, not to overshadow other kids on their team. But the star on that court today was No. 3.

"To see a kid who doesn't start give that kind of performance in the NCAA Tournament is remarkable. That's what makes the tournament so good, too, you get to see these kids do that."

Prior to Saturday, the 6-2 sophomore had not pulled down more than six rebounds and dished out six assists this season.

"I don't think our offense takes a step back when Joe Mazzulla comes into the game," Ruoff said. "Although he's a sophomore, he plays like a senior."

Although the Blue Devils scored the first three points after halftime to extend their lead to eight points, the Mountaineers charged to the lead with an 18-3 run. Alexander had six points in the burst, including a three-point play that gave West Virginia a 40-38 advantage with 14:38 to play.

Ruoff also had a big shot on the play, beating the shot clock with a 3-pointer that tied the score at 37-37 with 15:10 left.

"Actually, I think both teams came out really strong in the second half," Scheyer said. "We had some good looks in the beginning of the second half and they just didn't fall in.

"There were a couple of plays where they ended up getting scores off of it and you could see their confidence built up a little bit. On the other hand, I think we weren't as patient as we were in the first half. We maybe forced some shots or went a little too quickly, but I think that's what happened."

The Mountaineers continued to roll thereafter, getting a layup by seldom-used reserve Cam Thoroughman for a 57-47 cushion with 5:21 to play. With Duke continuing to clang the front rim with its deep shots the lead proved insurmountable.