Not sure that I’ve shared this with you before, but probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in this line of work was walk into that locker room in the Georgia Dome on that sullen night in March 2006. Texas had just devastated WVU — and I’m not certain that’s a strong enough word — and not merely ended a season for the Mountaineers, but ended an era.
And not only did the curtain fall on Gansey and Beilein, Herber and Pittsnogle and Durisseau-Collins, but it was called down with a desperation 3-pointer form Kenton Paulino to finish one of the most competitive games I can remember and end what is definitely the most sudden and violent momentum shift I’ve ever witnessed.
Paulino’s dagger was preceded by vintage John Beilein Era-WVU — glaring deficiencies, a pesky spirity, a gritty comeback, clutch shots, just enough defense and a brilliant plan in which the penultimate inbound went to Johannes and J.D. set a screen and the whole thing caught the Longhorns off guard. Then Pittsnogle, who’d just been bloodied by a well-laced elbow in the nose, hero’d up and nailed a 3 to tie the score.
I never lowered my head to note the play. Paulino promptly called off that stay of execution.
The locker room was just brutal. I don’t even like thinking about it because I’d gotten to know those guys pretty well in four years and, quite frankly, you hate to see people you care about, if even a little bit, in that state. Doing my job that night was not fun.
You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words? They weren’t in that locker room. There are no words for that. It sucked, man.
The two teams played two very good games that year and WVU, despite a slide and an early loss in the Big East Tournament, was, I contend, a very good team that season. It was a tournament terror and by the time it had gotten to Atlanta after beating Southern Illinois and Northwestern State, the field actually looked pretty navigable.
Except for Texas, which matched up with the Mountaineers and could ask questions that team and that coach could not answer. I really think if WVU wins that game, it beats Duke or LSU and then gets to the Final Four. Who knows what happens with UCLA and then either Florida or George Mason?
The whole thing still bothers me and I was reminded when I walked into the Erwin Center a while back and took a stroll and saw a photo of the post-Paulino celebration. Crazy how one team’s low can be another team’s high.
The two haven’t met since and I suggest preparing for a nail-biter, or given the way these two can’t score, a root canal. And just for kicks, maybe familiarize yourself with the principle of verticality.
Everybody to the dance floor …