PITTSBURGH - Mountaineer fans traveled here by the thousands and started the party early.
At least 60 minutes prior to tipoff, the Consol Energy Center was ablaze with gold-clad WVU supporters thrilled with the NCAA's decision, in essence providing room service for Bob Huggins' team which enjoyed a relatively short bus ride. Great atmosphere, major buzz.
So, why did they have to go and spoil it all by playing the damn game?
There was little doubt WVU was the worst team in the building in this double session format. The Mountaineers could not have beaten UNC-Asheville, nor Loyola, nor the tag team of Bruno Sammartino and Jumpin' Johnny DeFazio for that matter.
If this tournament totals 16 seeds, Huggins' quint resembled a number 17. They were that bad. They were down 14-10.
Then, they were down, 27-10. Then, it got worse.
To knock off a formidable Gonzaga squad, it stood to reason something special was required of senior stars Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant.
Jones was confounded by a Zags' rotating defense which effectively limited his touches. "There weren't many times I could work open," he would confirm afterward. Final numbers (13 points, 4 boards) told a bitter tale
Bryant, unfortunately, saved his most disappointing season for last. At times, he resembled a future pro. Others, such as Thursday night, he looked to be playing a pick-up game at the 'Y.'
"I hope I leave a lasting legacy (at WVU)," an emotional Jones offered in the despair of his team's lockerroom. "Of course, this isn't the way you want your (college) career to end. What's really disappointing is the fact Gonzaga out-toughed us all night. That wasn't supposed to happen."
Coach Mark Few's now 26-6 Zags shot 56 percent (28-50) including a sharp 9-of-17 behind the three-point arc.
Huggins was obviously displeased, boldly labeling the 2011-12 Mounties, "the worst defensive team I've had in my 33 years." Low praise, indeed.
It's true, Huggins often operated with an expanded group of freshmen on the floor. Finding pure shooters among them, however, basically proves futile.
This was a Mountaineer team which looked every bit a 14-time loser.
You got a notion something was up in November when Kent State came to Morgantown and handed WVU a 70-60 setback.
The Gold & Blue managed a few signature wins (Kansas State, Georgetown, Cincinnati). They also struggled mightily as the season wore down, in the end dropping nine of their final 13 decisions.
Life in the Big 12 will prove equally rough and tumble next season. There's an immediate sense of urgency Huggins must work to land another one or two high-profile recruits. His track record in that regard is generally stellar.
"Life goes on," Jones theorized before heading to the team bus. "Hopefully, I have a lot more basketball in my future. Right now, though, I just want to get back (to campus) and see what it feels like to be a regular student for awhile."
Gibson may be reached at email@example.com