Leadership On Display

WVU head coach Bob Huggins has spoken of his search for leadership on this year's team, and he got it from several players in the Mountaineers' 66-55 road win over Cincinnati.

While Joe Mazzulla was the most obvious example of the leadership parade. The fifth-year senior took control of the game in the second half, scoring 12 of his 16 points after the break and keeping West Virginia's offense productive enough to grind out a win.

Much of that offense was specifically set up for him. The Mountaineers, according to Mazzulla, didn't run many set plays in the second half.

"We didn't run a lot of offense," Mazzulla said when asked about his control of the attack. "We ran a lot of high ball screens, and I was able to get into the lane. It was just my turn tonight."

It was actually the second consecutive game in which Mazzulla led West Virginia (14-6, 5-3). Coming on the heels of his 18-point first half performance against Louisville, he might be turning the corner in that leadership role as easily as he did on drives against the Cardinals and Bearcats.

"Joe Mazzulla single-handedly won the game," Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin opined after the contest. "He drove the ball into the lane and won it for them."

Head coach Bob Huggins was quick to point out, however, that it wasn't just Mazzulla who has been making strides in taking the team by the scruff of the neck when necessary.

"I think Cam has really tried, and I think KJ (Kevin Jones) has tried. We have a whole bunch of them who knew we needed some wins. John Flowers has been terrific. I don't want to diminish what Joe means to us, but those other guys have been pretty doggone good too."

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While Jones was held without a shot in the first half and finished with just eight points in the game, he collected nine rebounds and played his usual smart floor game. Into his scoring breach stepped Flowers, who had 16 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.

"You are talking about John Flowers at six foot six, and he's leading the league in blocked shots," Huggins said. "He blocked four of them today. He plays hard every day."

Add in Thoroughman's energy on defense (he helped hold Cincinnati strongman Yancey Gates to seven points) and the Mountaineers may have found a team approach to the leadership gap that has plagued it for part of the season.

It might not have been apparent early on, as West Virginia fell behind by as many as six points in the opening half, but just as it looked as if the Bearcats might take control of the game, the Mountaineers bounced back. Flowers braced four free throws around a Dalton Pepper 3-pointer, and followed it with a lay-up off a Joe Mazzulla steal to put WVU in front by three at 28-25. The third member of the leadership team, Thoroughman, then contributed all four of his points with a mid-range jumper and a lay-up to put the Mountaineers up by six at the break.

The second half, however, was the Mazzulla show. Handling the ball almost exclusively in the absence of Truck Bryant, who played just four minutes in the second half, Mazzulla drove the ball from almost every point on the perimeter, and broke down the UC defense time and again. Over the last 11 minutes of the game, he assisted on two 3-pointers, made seven of his final eight free throws, and generally created more havoc than a swarm of bees at a picnic.

Even when Mazzulla didn't score, his penetration caused problems for the Bearcats. Faced with playing help defense to slow down his drives to the basket, UC defenders were often out of rebounding position, which allowed WVU to record 15 second chances on the offensive glass. Two of those went to Mazzulla, who hung around after forays into the lane and battled to grab the ball.

Down the stretch, West Virginia showed the poise that it lacked earlier in the week against Louisville, and turned what had been a tight game into a comparatively comfortable win -- comfortable, at least, compared to many of the tight contests of recent weeks. WVU had just four turnovers in the second half, with just one in the final ten minutes. It also made nine of its final 12 free throw attempts to help keep the Bearcats (18-4, 5-4) at bay.

Cincinnati's poor second half shooting, partially caused by very good Mountaineer defense, was als a huge factor in the game, but in the end, it was those signs of leadership that helped the Mountaineer move to 5-3 in the Big East.

"I think those guys know that this is it, man," Huggins said of his senior crew. "They don't want to go out on a bad team."

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