Mazzulla's MVP Performance Sparks WVU

Mazzulla's MVP Performance Sparks WVU

There was a day earlier this season when West Virginia guard Joe Mazzulla, his left shoulder injured so badly a year ago that he needed difficult surgery, entered coach Bob Huggins' office with tears in his eyes. Mazzulla's rehabilitation was coming along at a painfully slow pace.

"What will I do if I can't play anymore?" Mazzulla asked his coach.

"You tell me you're the best soccer player in Rhode Island. Maybe you can play for Marlin," Huggins answered, referring to WVU soccer coach Marlin LeBlanc.

Marlin LeBlanc will just have to wait for Mazzulla, who has come all the way back to become the toast of all of West Virginia.

Mazzulla was selected the Most Valuable Player as the Mountaineers won the East Regional, upsetting Kentucky in the final with Mazzulla scoring 17 points and playing spectacular defense.

It was a performance reminiscent of what he did two years ago against Duke in the Sweet 16, having what had been his career game until what he did against Kentucky.

For as good as he was in that Duke game -- when he had 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists -- he was needed more against Kentucky because the Mountaineers were without starting point guard Truck Bryant, who suffered a broken foot in practice after the second round win over Missouri.

Mazzulla's ability to drive to the basket in the second half shredded the Kentucky defense. More importantly, his play on the baseline in the 1-3-1 defense that Huggins used almost all game rather his normal man-to-man frustrated the Wildcats' huge freshman center, DeMarcus Cousins.

"He was holding onto DeMarcus," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "He was physical, we couldn't find him to get him the ball. If we could have knocked down a shot we might have opened things up down low, but we couldn't."

Indeed, Kentucky missed its first 20 3-pointers, not hitting one until the final four minutes of the game, finishing 4 for 32 behind the arc.

By contrast, Mazzulla got untracked by hitting a 3-pointer in the first half as WVU scored all of its baskets from 3-point range. It was Mazzulla's first 3-point basket since the 2008 Great Alaska Shootout and only the 18th of his career.

NOTES, QUOTES

  • After upsetting Kentucky in the East Regional final at Syracuse, Bob Huggins is 8-1 in head-to-head matchups with his good coaching friend, John Calipari.

  • WVU has won 18 of its last 22 games televised by CBS.

  • By winning the Big East Tournament, the Mountaineers won their first conference championship since winning the Atlantic 10 in 1984.

  • WVU is in a New York state of mind. Not only are all five starters, including injured guard Truck Bryant, from the New York area, but the Mountaineers have won 10 of their last 11 games in the state of New York, including four in Buffalo and Syracuse in this NCAA Tournament.

    COACH: Bob Huggins, three years at West Virginia, second year in NCAA Tournament.

    KEYS TO VICTORY: West Virginia and Duke's veteran players know each other from a memorable meeting two years when the Mountaineers were led by Joe Mazzulla to a stirring NCAA victory. The challenge Duke presents is very much different than WVU has faced in NCAA games against up-tempo Missouri, Washington and Kentucky. While the Mountaineers used the 1-3-1 zone to slow Kentucky, they figure to man up with Duke to take advantage of their athleticism and length. Duke hits a lot of 3-pointers, especially with Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler, while Kentucky could not drop any. Singler, though, comes off an awful shooting game against the Baylor zone, 0-for-10 from the field, including 0-for-5 from beyond the arc. Scheyer, Singler and Nolan Smith each average more than 17 points.

    The Blue Devils have a big man in 7-footer Brian Zoubek to battle inside and they are a good rebounding team, but WVU figures to really be emphasizing rebounding this week after being pounded by Kentucky on the boards. The Mountaineers could make big use of reserve Cam Thoroughman, who had a big defensive game against the Blue Devils in the last meeting.

    Duke, of course, is the only No. 1 seed left in the tournament and the coaching matchup between Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Huggins is intriguing.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I talked to the team about being special. Two more wins and they'll be really special." -- WVU coach Bob Huggins, talking to the crowd after beating Kentucky to advance to the Final Four, about what he said to his team.


    STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

    SCOUTING REPORT: West Virginia continues to reinvent itself with every game. There was panic in some areas when starting point guard Truck Bryant broke his foot, but Joe Mazzulla stepped in and played solidly against Washington and then was the star of the Mountaineers' victory over Kentucky, scoring 17 points. He gives the team a different look than Bryant, being more of a slasher and relying more on speed. He also is a stronger defender, especially when WVU plays its 1-3-1 zone. Normally a switching man-to-man team, WVU played the 1-3-1 almost all game against Kentucky, with spectacular results. The Wildcats missed their first 20 3-point shots and Mazzulla, on the baseline, frustrated 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins.

    The Mountaineers use Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks to bring the ball up court when Mazzulla is on the bench and while that has led to an increase in turnovers, they also are tough matchups. WVU is getting great play off the bench from John Flowers, who was used for 23 minutes against Kentucky; coach Bob Huggins said Flowers was the team's most valuable player in beating Washington, although his contributions are sometimes subtle. Against Kentucky he scored only four points and fouled out, but he hit as many 3-point shots as UK's John Wall, had four rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

    GAME REVIEW:

    WVU 68, Missouri 59 (NCAA Tournament second round)
    WVU 69, Washington 56 (NCAA Tournament, East Regional semifinals)
    WVU 73, Kentucky 66 (NCAA Tournament, East Regional final)

    GAME PREVIEW:

    vs. Duke, Saturday, April 3, NCAA Tournament national semifinal

    ROSTER REPORT:

  • PG Truck Bryant broke his foot after the Missouri game and was said to be out for the remainder of the season, but he maintains he is getting a special shoe made and said he's "90 percent certain" he'll be able to play in the Final Four. Bryant averages 9.3 points a game and has 108 assists and 71 turnovers.

  • With Bryant out, G Casey Mitchell started just his sixth game of the year against Washington while Joe Mazzulla got the start against Kentucky. It was Mazzulla's first starting assignment this year.

  • F Kevin Jones has broken the WVU record for offensive rebounds with 131 this season.

  • F Da'Sean Butler has broken the school record for games played and minutes played this year. He is third in career scoring behind Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley.
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