PoG: WVU - Notre Dame

Before West Virginia's season began, so much talk revolved around what the team's backcourt would look like and how much guards Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant could make each other -- and their team -- better by being on the floor at the same time. It took awhile, but Mountaineer fans saw what they had hoped for in Saturday's 72-58 win over No. 7 Notre Dame.

PLAYER OF THE GAME:

  • Joe Mazzulla.

    One of West Virginia's senior leaders took control in a game his team desperately needed to win.

    The Johnston, R.I., native had 16 points and seven assists, while playing all 40 minutes and doing his part on the other end of the floor to slow down Irish star Ben Hansbrough (who was only 7-of-18 from the field).

    Whether Mazzulla's offensive game helped set up his teammates for open jump shots or whether those jump shots set up Mazzulla's ability to drive to the basket is one of those "chicken or the egg" arguments. It's hard to tell which came first.

    But the truth is, both things must happen for WVU to compete against teams like Notre Dame.

    Other opponents have been able to go to zone defenses to limit Mazzulla's ability to attack the rim, but when Irish head coach Mike Brey tried that in the second half, Truck Bryant promptly hit an open 3-pointer to end that idea.

    The two guards played off of each other as well as they could. Their skills were complementary and were truly the biggest reason the Mountaineers earned their biggest Big East Conference win of the season.

    NET BURNERS:

  • Truck Bryant.

    It's been quite a while since the junior guard had a game worth mentioning on our list of honorees.

    But finally, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native broke out of what has been almost a season-long shooting slump, and his efforts went a long way towards helping WVU secure a victory that should end any doubts about its NCAA Tournament status.

    Indeed, the Mountaineers are all but surely in. Bryant's finally were as well on Saturday. He scored 24 points -- just one short of a career-high. He made 10 of his 12 free throws and four of his seven 3-point attempts.



    Truck Bryant
    But just as importantly, he played intelligently. Bryant didn't turn the ball over once.

    The guard has had a penchant for driving into traffic in the lane and giving the ball away, but he attacked the rim at the right moments against the Irish.

    He went after Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough often, including on a play late in the game that resulted in the star guard's fifth personal foul -- which all but assured there would be no miracle comeback for the visitors.

    In short, he did the things it will take for WVU to be able to compete against the nation's best the rest of the way.

    Bob Huggins has been right all along: somebody has got to make shots for the Mountaineers to win these games. It might as well be Bryant.

  • Their kind of game.

    When things got a bit "chippy" in the second half and officials had to whistle both head coaches for technical fouls for arguing calls, it was clear emotion was going to play a big part in the concluding minutes of this one.

    That's typically dangerous for the team that has the lead, as WVU did in this case.

    But there was no reason for worry, as the game shifted even more towards the Mountaineers' style of play. It was physical (at times bordering on being too physical). Notre Dame players were willing to take quick shots.

    That was truly what allowed the hosts to easily cruise to a double-digit victory. Guys like Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis found themselves making bad decisions, missing open shots and picking up cheap fouls.

    Both also found themselves on the bench, fouled out, by game's end.

    The winning team in college basketball is typically the one that imposes its style of play on its opposition. There was little doubt that the last 14:00 or so of this one was played at WVU's whim.

  • Kevin Jones.

    Another game. Another double-double. Another relatively error-free performance.

    What Jones lacks in flash, he makes up for by being one of the most rock-solid all-around players in the Big East.

    He still isn't making shots with the regularity he'd certainly like (4-of-11 from the field), but the junior forward did everything else well and still found a way to get his points.

    He scored 14, added 10 rebounds and three assists to go with a steal. He didn't turn the ball over even once.

    Maybe Jones isn't the star many thought he might be coming into the season. But he is the kind of player a team like this WVU squad needs if it hopes to win games.

    And if those midrange jumpers ever do start to fall again, watch out.

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