PoG: WVU - Connecticut
Kevin Jones
Kevin Jones
Staff Writer
Posted Mar 2, 2011


On a night when Big East Conference Player of the Year contender Kemba Walker was the star attraction at the Coliseum, it was West Virginia's best player who made the plays that secured a victory down the stretch.

PLAYER OF THE GAME:

  • Kevin Jones.

    It's approaching broken record territory, as Jones had another double-double. The statistical line, then, won't surprise you all that much: 15 points, 10 rebounds in 39 minutes of play.

    But Jones played a truly great game on Wednesday night.

    He was always in the right spot defensively -- whether it was in the post or guarding UConn's slashing guards.

    He scored when it mattered, overcoming a 1-of-6 first half to make all five of his field goals in the final 20 minutes and tally those 15 points.

    He made rebounds on both ends of the floor in the waning minutes, assisted on a tough Deniz Kilicli basket to make it a five-point game with 3:50 left.

    But that all paled in comparison to one play that summed up Jones' career at WVU, in many ways.

    After John Flowers missed a short shot and four Mountaineers ran back downcourt to play defense, conceding the rebound to the Huskies, Jones stayed put. When the ball briefly popped free from Alex Oriakhi, Jones pounced, grabbing hold of it.

    His back was to the basket. His team was holding a tenuous three-point lead with under 2:00 left. Known as a "smart" player, perhaps the "smart" play for Jones would have been to toss the ball back to a teammate and run some clock.

    But instead, Jones turned and fired a shot almost blindly at the rim. It went in, and Jones ran back to play defense, pounding his chest and imploring his teammates to lock down their opponents.

    Jones, as he so often is, was in the right place at the right time. The difference this time was he actually made a shot -- something that's been a struggle for the junior this season.

    But if he can start to make a few more baskets, then look out. West Virginia might actually begin to play like a defending Big East Conference champion when it hits Madison Square Garden next week.

    NET BURNERS:

  • Joe Mazzulla.

    It was hard to keep Mazzulla from our top honors, but Jones' heroics down the stretch just barely won out.

    It could be argued, though, that without Mazzulla's suddenly accurate jump shot, West Virginia wouldn't have even been in a competitive game with -- let alone beaten -- UConn.

    The point guard provided the offensive spark his team needed to play well early, scoring 14 points in the first half by shooting 6-of-7 from the field.



    Joe Mazzulla
    That gave his teammates time to overcome their own offensive woes, as every other Mountaineer combined to shoot 6-of-21 in the opening 20 minutes.

    The veteran ended up tying a career-high with 18 points.

    Mazzulla's jump shot kept the Huskies' defense honest. When they tried to take it away, the senior guard found other teammates who could score, dishing out five assists while only turning the ball over once.

    It was, in short, a stellar game from the player who might be most critical to this West Virginia team's success. It's no coincidence that his better play in recent weeks has coincided with some of the Mountaineers' better efforts, as well.

  • The point-drop zone defense.

    UConn was scoring almost at will in a stretch early in the second half, converting on seven of eight possessions and taking the lead on a Charles Okwandu jumper that made it 47-46 with just more than 10:00 to go.

    But in a game that pitted two of college basketball's premier coaches against each other, it was Huggins who made the move that the Huskies' Jim Calhoun just didn't have an answer for.

    Known for his teams' trademark man-to-man defense, Huggins isn't one to switch to a zone unless it's absolutely necessary. In this case, it was both necessary and brilliant.

    Suddenly, Connecticut guard Kemba Walker couldn't attack the lane with ease. He couldn't create open shots for teammate Shabazz Napier. Neither of those two players, who accounted for 40 of their team's 56 points, could get the easy "step-in" shots they had enjoyed almost all game long.

    Credit WVU's players for continuing to attack the glass enough to avoid giving UConn easy put-back baskets against the zone.

    Credit them for executing a defense they don't often play, even though Huggins made some on-the-fly personnel switches in terms of positions each player defended in the zone.

    But credit Huggins himself for making the decision that changed the course of this game for good. The nearly 8:00 long field goal drought for the Huskies that ensued was a direct result of the point-drop zone defense, and that drought was a big reason for WVU's win.

  • Cam Thoroughman.

    The Mountaineers need their starting forward to do all the little things right to overcome his struggles to score.

    Yet again, the senior did so. He dished out a game-high six assists and only turned the ball over once while playing lock-down post defense, keeping Connecticut's Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu (a combined eight points), among others, from finding much success.

    Thoroughman added two points and four rebounds in his 28 minutes of play.

    Maybe Thoroughman isn't a fan-favorite like John Flowers. Maybe he isn't a marksman of a jump shooter like Jonnie West. Maybe he doesn't play with his heart on his sleeve like Mazzulla.

    But fans would be remiss to not recognize his accomplishments on Senior Night this Saturday. Thoroughman has overcome injuries and rebuilt himself into a physical force who does all of the dirty work it takes to win in the Big East, setting good screens and playing tough, smart basketball.

    He'll barely be a blip in the Mountaineer record books statistically. But Thoroughman's play is a huge reason a depleted WVU roster could still earn a No. 6 seed in the Big East Conference tournament next week with a win on Saturday night.



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