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West Virginia pulls away from Connecticut

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Joe Mazzulla scored 18 points and Kevin Jones added 15 and 10 rebounds as West Virginia pulled away from Connecticut in the last 90 seconds for a 65-56 win.

Match-up zone might be more of a nightmarish thought than a defensive scheme to the Connecticut Huskies after tonight.

West Virginia (19-10, 10-7), in a defensive clinic fashion, held the talented Huskies offense to its lowest point total on the year, leading to a 65-56 win over their Big East opponent at WVU Coliseum Wednesday night.

Shooting just 22 of 59 (37.3%) from the field, Connecticut (21-8, 9-8) connected on just two field goals in the final 7:49 of the second half.

The Huskies star point-guard, Kemba Walker scored a game-high 22 points, but was held to just 8 field goals out of 23 attempts.

Joe Mazzulla led the way for the Mountaineers, scoring a team-high 18 points, going 7 of 10 from the field, while shadowing Walker in the match-up zone look for much of the game.

“It just came down to guarding the ball and really contesting their shots,” said Mazzulla, who also racked up five assists, four rebounds and just one turnover.  “We were able to contest their threes and we didn't give up dribble-penetration.”

The only other Husky to join Walker in double-figures was guard Shabazz Napier, who finished with 18 points on the day.  The next closest was guard Jeremy Lamb who had just five points.  Forward Alex Oriakhi was next in line with just four points.

“We ran the matchup zone against them, because we had a little bit of success with it the last time we played them,” continued Mazzulla about the strong defensive clinic put on by the Mountaineers.  “We knew that (Walker) was a guy that could hit shots off-the-dribble, so we really wanted to close out on the other guys, and make them take off-the-dribble, contested shots.”

Mazzulla helped push West Virginia out to an 11-2 run to open the game, with seven of those points coming from the hands of the senior.

As a team, the Mountaineers shot a solid 22 of 47 (46.8%) from the field, and 5 of 12 (41.7%) from beyond-the-arc.

With the game going back-and-forth for much of the second half, WVU generated a big portion of its offense from the 5:38 mark to the finish, where the Mountaineers raced to a 12-2 run to end the game.

“(West Virginia) won in what I would consider to be Bob Huggins' style, which is down the stretch with 2:12 to go,” said Connecticut head Coach Jim Calhoun.  “They out-touched us.  We needed to play physically inside and get some rebounds.  You don't expect the game to get away from you with 2:12 left, but we made some very poor choices on offense and we didn't do a good job the whole game of taking away their post play.”

The post play was a mainstay for West Virginia in the second half, thanks in large part to forward Kevin Jones, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half.  

Jones' second-half hot streak was ignited by a rare three-pointer that the junior connected with just several minutes expired in the half.

“We wanted to get him into an offensive rhythm,” said Mazzulla about Jones.  “We knew that they wouldn't come out to guard 'KJ,' so we set up a play for him to get a wide-open three.  He hit it and that really set the tone for the second half.”

Jones also corralled 10 rebounds, marking his seventh double-double on the year.

“It was how they were playing things.  The thing about KJ (Kevin Jones) is he seems to make shots when you need them,” said Coach Bob Huggins about his clutch forward.  “He made the big 3 in the Georgetown game when they made the run at us; his rebound basket was huge for us.  We tried to post John (Flowers) and John missed a shot and KJ was able to go to the line and score.  That was huge for us.  That gave us a little bit of breathing room.”

The rebound basket came with 1:37 left in the game, giving WVU a 58-53 lead at the time.

Jones and the Mountaineers kept the quick, transition-prone Huskies to just two fast-break points, and just eight points-off-of-turnovers.

“We basically tried to confuse them and not let them get into the lane as much as they did in the first half,” said Jones.  “It kind of confuses everybody, because nobody knows if it's a man-look or a zone defense.  If you're not having a good shooting day, you're not going to have a good day playing against it.”

The forward Flowers and center Deniz Kilicli each scored seven points a piece.  Guard Truck Bryant went just 1 of 9 from the field, but scored nine points, including four straight trips to the free-throw line at the end of the game, where the junior connected on 7 of 8.

Suffocating Defense
The Mountaineers have played stifling defense in their last three wins, including holding Notre Dame (Feb. 19) to 58 points, Rutgers (Feb. 27) to 54 points and just 56 points to Connecticut Wednesday night.

“We've been aggressive on the ball and making sure we don't give up easy baskets, especially inside,” said Jones. “This is defense that we have to carry out to the end of the year and into the Big East (and NCAA) Tournament's.”

As of now, WVU is allowing opponents to just 64.1 points per game, just 40.8% from the field, and an astounding 28.1% from beyond-the-arc. The Mountaineers currently stand in the top five in the Big East in all of those categories.

“We're playing physical,” said Kilicli. “Every game it feels like it's the most physical game I've ever played in. That's how we want to set the tempo. We want to be a physical team, and we want to make teams earn it.”

T'd Up
Coach Jim Calhoun was hit with a technical foul with 12:56 remaining in the second half, arguing over a call. Guard Casey Mitchell missed both of the technical free throws.

“You should all congratulate me,” said Huggins in a frolic tone when asked why he didn't receive a technical as well. “I showed a lot of patience tonight.”

The Mountaineers shot 16 of 24 (66.7%) from the free-throw line to Connecticut's 5 of 7 (71.4%)

“It's worked a couple of times in the past,” said Thoroghman. “We were getting blown out by them in the second half last year, and we came back because of it. It definitely works against them.”

Imagine That
In a bit of twisted fate (or at least a bad omen) an Alex Oriakhi free throw, with just two minutes left in the first half, landed on the back of the rim and stayed. After waiting for the ball to fall for almost a minute, the officials decided to call a jump-ball, which gave West Virginia possession.

Play of the Day
With 6:26 left in the first half, Deniz Kilicli took a pass from the foul line, then dribbled with a full head of steam to the basket, finishing with a one-handed driving dunk as he fell to the ground. The play gave the Mountaineers a 22-16 advantage.

Next Up
The Mountaineers host Louisville on Saturday in the regular season finale before the Big East Tournament in New York City, which starts Mar. 8. Tipoff for Saturday's game is set for noon.

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