PoG: WVU - Kentucky

TAMPA, Fla. -- For one half of play, Joe Mazzulla was, once again, a Wildcat killer of the highest order, giving millions of folks in Bluegrass Country flashbacks to his heroics in last season's Elite Eight game between West Virginia and Kentucky.


Joe Mazzulla.

Kentucky fans are certainly glad they will never have to play against WVU's guard -- perhaps the highest compliment an enemy can pay to a player -- after UK won a second round NCAA Tournament game here 71-63.

After scoring a then-career-high 17 points in last season's Elite Eight game between the Wildcats and Mountaineers, Mazzulla did one better on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum, setting a new career-best with 20 points in his final game at West Virginia.

He scored 15 of those points in the first half, which gave him a staggering 29 points in his last 40 minutes of play (dating back to the second half of last year's game) against Kentucky.

Mazzulla was, as he was throughout his lengthy Mountaineer career, a warrior. He took hard shots on several occasions and played through considerable pain in the second half.

That didn't prevent him from attacking the heart of the UK defense as often as possible, driving into big bodies and absorbing contact.

But it wasn't just the physical nature of his play that was impressive. He played a heady game as well, directing traffic and putting his teammates in good position time and time again.

He truly was the heart and soul of this West Virginia team and a source of pride for its head coach, Bob Huggins. Mazzulla may have been recruited by former Mountaineer head man John Beilein, but he was tailor-made to be a Huggins player.

He showed that yet again on Saturday, even if it was in a losing effort.


  • Offensive rebounding.

    The one statistic that may have went furthest in explaining the difference between the first half, when WVU played well enough to hold an eight point lead in the locker room, and the second, when the Mountaineers scored only 22 points and never really had control, was offensive rebounding.

    In the first half, West Virginia grabbed six of its own misses and turned that into a 7-0 lead in second-chance points at intermission. The Wildcats had a goose egg in that statistic largely because they grabbed on only one offensive board.

    But that changed entirely after the break. WVU scored only two second-chance points in the second half (on only three offensive rebounds) while Kentucky grabbed eight of its own misses and scored eight second-chance points as a result.

    Even on the ones where the Wildcats didn't put the ball back up and in, they took advantage of their good position inside to get fouled often, shooting 19 free throws in the second half after only attempting five in the first 20 minutes.

    UK's Josh Harrellson (a senior who didn't even play a single minute in last year's Elite Eight game between the two squads) was particularly tough on that end, grabbing four offensive rebounds in the second half and making 7-of-10 shots to score 15 points.

  • Kentucky's move to put longer defenders on WVU's guards.

    With Mazzulla knifing through UK's defense once again like it was so much Swiss cheese and a change-up 2-3 zone defense solved by Truck Bryant's solid early outside shooting (3-of-3 from 3-point range in the first half), there weren't many options left for Wildcat head coach John Calipari.

    And he needed an answer quickly with his team trailing by eight points at halftime and the Mountaineers holding all the momentum.

    Calipari made one great tactical move that got lost in the mix. He switched guard DeAndre Liggins (Kentucky's best on-ball defender; long-armed and quick-footed) onto Mazzulla.

    That made it that much harder for Mazzulla to drive the lane effectively.

    The same tactic was used when Bob Huggins brought shooting specialist Jonnie West into the game in the waning minutes, hoping for some quick scores to get back into the contest. Liggins and forward Terrence Jones defended West, and both blocked the reserve guard's shot attempts.

    In the end, Kentucky beat WVU with a bit of what bothered the Wildcats so much in last year's match-up -- length at multiple positions.

  • Scoring droughts.

    They were the story of so many losses this season for West Virginia, and they were again a culprit in this NCAA Tournament third round game.

    The Mountaineers went 6:13 without a point to start the second half, and as a result, they watched their eight-point halftime lead turn into a three-point deficit thanks to an 11-0 UK run.

    But that wasn't a killer. The field goal drought that came towards the end of the game was.

    Between Truck Bryant's layup with 7:37 left and Casey Mitchell's 3-pointer with 14 seconds to go (when the game was already decided), WVU scored only one field goal -- a Kevin Jones jumper with 2:04 left that brought his team back within three points.

    Put those two cold streaks together, and it's easy to see why West Virginia scored only 17 points in the first 19:29 of the second half.

    And as was the case so many times in 2010-11, WVU just couldn't overcome those scoreless stretches to win against a tough opponent.

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