Joe Mazzulla, making his first start of the season, was the catalyst behind the Mountaineers' stunning of the top-seeded Wildcats. Driving repeatedly to the basket, Mazzulla scored 17 points with scoop lay-ups and trips to the free throw line, but his point production was only a small part of the story. Faced with a Kentucky defense that completely shut down the Mountaineers inside the three-point line in the first half (WVU was 0-16 from two point range), the heady Rhode Islander kept his teammates calm
"I think the difference in the second half was patience," Mazzulla said after the win. "We ran the offense better and were able to get some curls and cuts to the basket."
The heady Rhode Islander was the key component to that, as he finally produced a two-pointer nearly 22 minutes into the game on a drive to the basket. That set the tone for the Mountaineers, who proceeded to score 45 points in the final 20 minutes after putting up just 28 in the opening period. Mazzulla was the driving force in most of those, drawing defenders and setting up shots for teammates while also getting to the line eight times. He made six of those chances and added three assists and two steals in his 30 minutes on the floor.
The performance follows Mazzulla's showing against Duke two years ago in the second round of the NCAA's when he nearly had a triple-double to knock the Blue Devils from the tournament.
WVU began the game playing the 1-3-1 after it made shots and man on misses, but it became evident that the zone was West Virginia's best set, even though it poses problems in gathering rebounds.
"About the ten-minute mark, Huggs and I talked, and I said, ‘The 1-3-1 is our best defense,'" assistant coach Larry Harrison said. "So we went with it the rest of the way."
WVU's effort countered many of its shortcomings, and clearly frustrated a Kentucky team that's used to a freewheeling offensive attack.
"The 1-3-1 bothered us," Kentucky head coach John Calipari noted. "We tried different things and it bothered us more than I thought it would."
"It was pretty tough," UK point guard John Wall added. "They did a great job of denying us from getting to the wings. You give hats off to them. Their defense did a great job on us and we didn't knock down shots today.
There's no doubt that it can be demoralizing for a team to get to the free throw line and not convert, and that may have played into UK's frustration level as well. Combined with the poor shooting night from the perimeter, Kentucky was unable to capitalize on the stat advantages that it held in so many categories.