SYRACUSE, N.Y. - It's almost heaven, West Virginia. Da'Sean Butler and the Mountaineers are off to the Final Four for the first time since 1959.
Injury replacement Joe Mazzulla scored a career-high 17 points in his first start this season and second-seeded West Virginia handled a cold-shooting Kentucky team stocked with future NBA players almost from the opening tip for a 73-66 victory in the East Regional final last night.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins, back with his alma mater, is in the Final Four for the first time since taking the Cincinnati Bearcats in 1992. It's an even longer stretch for West Virginia - Jerry West was the star of the team 51 years ago, and not yet a Hall of Famer or NBA logo.
For freshman sensation John Wall and the top-seeded Wildcats, a scintillating season ended with a clang.
They were awful from three-point range, missing their first 20 attempts and finishing a stunning 4 of 32 (12.5 percent). DeAndre Liggins finally hit a trey with 3 minutes, 29 seconds left to end the drought, but by then it was too late.
West Virginia (31-6) went the other way, making eight treys in the first half without a two-point basket. The Big East champions went 0 for 16 on the shorter shots.
Kentucky coach John Calipari led his talented team to the regional final in his first season, restoring the Wildcats (35-3) among basketball's elite after several underachieving seasons.
But they showed their inexperience in this one, misfiring all night after using a swarming defense to beat tournament darling Cornell in the round of 16.
Calipari was left staring at the Carrier Dome roof, wondering what he could do. Now, his focus shifts to which Wildcats are coming back.
Wall, who scored 19 points, might be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft if he decides he's one-and-done. Fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins and junior Patrick Patterson also could bolt for the NBA. Cousins scored 15 points last night.
"We've had games where we missed free throws and three-pointers, but our defense, we gave up a lot of layups. And they just outplayed us," Cousins said.
"We played bad defense. We were supposed to go under the screen but we were going over, which was giving them layups. I mean, simple stuff that we know better."
Calipari built top-seeded Kentucky into a championship contender again, and the Wildcats routed their first two tournament opponents, East Tennessee State (100-71) and Wake Forest (90-60). They became favorites to win an eighth national title when No. 1 overall seed Kansas was upset in the second round.
But other than an 11-0 run early, the Wildcats were wildly ineffective all game. Darius Miller missed all six shots, and Patterson and Eric Bledsoe were a combined 6 for 16.
It's been a turbulent time for Huggins since his previous Final Four appearance. He was forced out at Cincinnati, had a heart attack in 2002, and spent a year coaching Kansas State before he found the country roads back to Morgantown in 2007.
He couldn't have imagined at the start of the tournament relying on Mazzulla to take his team to Indianapolis. Hindered by a surgically repaired shoulder, Mazzulla came off the bench in 35 games this season and averaged 2.2 points - barely worth a mention in most scouting reports.
He started because West Virginia point guard Darryl Bryant broke his right foot Tuesday in practice.
Mazzulla dashed uncontested to the rim for several easy baskets. When he was out of the game, he was on all fours in front of the bench slamming the court in encouragement.
West Virginia fans chanted "Final Four! Final Four!" as the players took their spots at halfcourt after the final buzzer. Butler, who scored 18 points, led the Big East champions in a little Final Four dance and they cupped their ears to the crowd.
"I talked about it being special," Huggins told the crowd. "Two more and it will be really special."
Butler, who played with a sore right hand, was a big part of Kentucky's problem. He made four of West Virginia's 10 three-pointers.