Taking Charge

It didn't take long for WVU point guard Joe Mazzulla to show his aggressive, fearless style to Mountaineer basketball fans, as from day one he has consistently attacked opposing defenses. By now, even the most casual observer should know that is part and parcel of his game. The results he has gotten from his headlong drives, however, have changes as the season has progressed.

At the outset of his freshman season, Mazzulla often missed opportunities for scores or suffered turnovers as he learned the West Virginia offense and how to set up shots for his teammates. That wasn't out of selfishness, however – it was simply due to the fact that learning the John Beilein offense is a staged process. First you have to learn the plays. Then you have to learn the options off each one, which are often dictated by how the opposing defense guards a screen or a cut. Then, you have to get familiar with your teammates and their timing, so you can deliver the ball at the appropriate time and spot. A pass a second too early or late is often worse than not making the pass at all, as it can leave the recipient in a sop on the floor from which he can't get a shot off. And finally, you must put all these items together in order to a) run the offense efficiently, and b) earn your teammates' trust.

As the third round of the NIT looms, Mazzulla believes he has finally progressed through most, if not all, of the items on that checklist. An honest and up-front interview, Mazzulla has admitted to setbacks in the process, most notably five missed games in the middle of the season after suffering a deep thigh bruise in the waning moments of the win over Marshall. Now, however, with a trip to New York City on the line, WVU's only real substitute at the guard spot is fully recovered and believes he has made up for that lost time.

Mazzulla has also acclimated himself to not only substituting for starter Darris Nichols, but also to playing alongside him. With Beilein opting for a three-guard rotation (starter Alex Ruoff is the third), it's become even more incumbent upon Mazzulla to make good decisions, since he is handling the ball more than ever before.

His improvement in that area was on display in West Virginia's 90-77 win over UMass, as he repeatedly broke the Minutemen's desperate attempts at traps in the backcourt, then took advantage by pushing the ball hard to the basket and either dishing off or drawing fouls. He ended up with eight points, six of which came on a perfect night at the free throw line, and didn't make a bad decision in the process. He also put up an all important "zero" in the turnover column, which was instrumental as WVU opened a double-digit lead in the games final minutes. Those are numbers he didn't get in similar situations earlier in the season, and clearly show how far he has developed in a very short time.

Listen as Mazzulla discusses the differences in his game and looks forward to the chance to play again in Madison Square Garden.


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