By Anthony Rhoads
I'm still in disbelief.
The West Virginia Mountaineers were one game away from making it to the Final 4.
Even though the Mountaineers lost to Louisville in the Elite 8, I can't be anything but pleased with how the year went for WVU.
I admit I was Mr. Negative for much of the season about West Virginia but after starting the season at 10-0, the Mountaineers struggled and looked like they would have to settle for an NIT bid rather than get an invitation to The Big Dance.
But they knocked off Boston College in the Big East Tournament and became the first No. 8 seed to make it to the conference finals before falling to Syracuse.
The 2005 NCAA Tournament will be a series a games that I will remember for a long time. A last-second victory over Creighton in the first round. A double-overtime 111-05 victory over mighty Wake Forest in round two. A 65-60 victory over Texas Tech to guarantee a spot in the Elite 8.
The Mountaineers went up against Louisville in the Elite 8 and shot the lights out against the Cardinals. The Mountaineers made an unbelievable 18-of-24 pointers and at one time in the first half, led by 20 points.
There were times in that game it looked like West Virginia could not miss. There was one shot by Patrick Beilein where he was shooting so far back it looked like he was in the parking lot, and he still made it. It was just that kind of a night for West Virginia. If there was a West Virginia player open behind the 3-point arc, you knew he was going to make it whether it was Beilein, Kevin Pittsnogle, Mike Gansey or Joe Herber.
But I have to give Louisville head coach Rick Pitino for making adjustments at half-time and the Cardinal defense really bore down on West Virginia in the second half. Still, West Virginia made 8-of-10 shots from 3-point land in the second half. For the game, the Mountaineers made 66.7 percent of their 3-point attempts and still lost. Louisville kept playing tough defense, kept chipping away and came out on top with a 93-85 overtime victory.
During the NCAA tournament this year, I have jumped up and down, cheered, shouted, screamed and after the Wake Forest game, I nearly broke down and cried but after Saturday's game, I had nothing but admiration for West Virginia and for Louisville. As much as I love West Virginia and as much as I wanted the Mountaineers to win, I had to admire Louisville's effort. It really was a championship-caliber effort by Louisville.
West Virginia's Cinderella season is over but it was a great run. I not only enjoyed what they did on the basketball court but the way they went about it. They displayed sportsmanship and represented their university and their state well.
I also was impressed with head coach John Beilein. He is a guy with working-class roots and he worked his way up through the system from junior college, NAIA, NCAA, Division II, lower-level/mid-major Division I to major Division I.
Just four years ago, West Virginia suffered through the first 20-loss season in the program's history. In the three years he has been at West Virginia, Beilein has been able to lift the program from the depths of despair to the heights of success in just three years. No matter how you look at it, that's a heck of a coaching job.
I'm already looking forward to next year.
Anthony Rhoads is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . He is also a proud West Virginia native.