SYRACUSE - Five West Virginia players hopped up the steps to the podium for their NCAA Sweet 16 news conference Wednesday at the Carrier Dome. Then came point guard Darryl (Truck) Bryant laboriously trying to get up the steps with his crutches and the cumbersome walking cast on his right foot.
"Hurry up," kidded Da'Sean Butler, eliciting laughter from his healthy teammates and a big smile from Bryant, who will miss Thursday night's game against Washington (26-9) after starting 31 of 35 games this season for the Mountaineers (29-6). Bryant's right foot had been bothering him recently, and when he heard a pop in practice on Tuesday, he went for X-rays that revealed a fractured fifth metatarsal that knocked him out of the NCAA Tournament.
"Actually, I don't know how it happened," Bryant said. "My foot was hurting for a couple of days. I didn't think it was that serious. I switched shoes at halftime of the Missouri game when I started to notice my foot was hurting. Yesterday, I just backpedaled and I felt my foot pop. It was bad."
The injury deprived Bryant of the chance to line up across from Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas, who averages 17.1 points and 3.1 assists. The two guards had played against each other before. "His nickname explains it," Thomas said. " 'Truck.' He was just a strong guard from New York City. It's sad. I prayed for him."
There was no outward sign of gloom and doom from the Mountaineers because of the loss of Bryant, who averaged 9.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists. During the tournament, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has given an expanded role to backup point guard Joe Mazzulla anyway.
Mazzulla is coming off shoulder surgery, but he's as hard-nosed as the rest of the Mountaineers. They must shut down Washington's transition game, especially Pac-10 player of the year Quincy Pondexter, who averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.
Asked how the Mountaineers could remain upbeat after losing Bryant, Butler said, "I know he has enough faith in us that we can win the game. There's no reason to get uptight and panic."