The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 30, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU players determined to win for Huggs

CINCINNATI — As much as ESPN has done to bring you inside college basketball, as much as you see and hear and, yes, even read, there is much you don’t see and that is what we will bring you today, through the eyes of Joe Mazzulla.

The surface stuff you know, how he completely took over the basketball game between West Virginia University and Cincinnati on Saturday night, scoring 16 points, grabbing 7 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists, doing it for the entire evening unlike in his previous game when he buried Louisville with 18 first-half points but could not shake loose to score in the second half.

That you know before you sit down here, but you don’t know what happened from the moment the Louisville game ended in disappointment, despair and disbelief, Peyton Siva making an incredibly impossible scoop shot just before the buzzer to win the game.

You don’t know about the aches and the pains and the bruises that Mazzulla incurred in that game, after he hit the floor more often that heavyweight Floyd Patterson used to.

“I was hurting badly,” he admitted on a night when he was just as beat up but hurting less in the wake of a 66-55 victory.

To get the aches and the pain out, Mazzulla settled comfortably into an ice bath.

“Forty-five degrees; I was freezing,” he said.

The situation was not a good one, for as well as the Mountaineers had played in that loss to Louisville, and with them remaining on the road before busing up to Cincinnati, they were not allowed to have an organized practice.

That meant no coaches, but it didn’t mean no practice.

They got together as a team – at least what’s left of it with only eight scholarship players and seven who are playing – and walked about a mile from the hotel to the KFC Yum! Center, graciously given to them by Louisville.

They practiced, players only.

Two hours they went.

“We practiced on our own, ran the scout on our own. We did everything we would have done,” Mazzulla said.

The pain was still there, of course, but Mazzulla wasn’t going to let it get in the way of what is rapidly becoming the end of his collegiate career.

Cincinnati was next in line, and he and John Flowers and Cam Thoroughman were hit with the importance of the game.

“We got together for a captain’s meeting,” he said. “The most important thing was to get this for Huggs. Me and John and Cam realized this was our last chance to win in Cincinnati for him.”

Indeed, WVU coach Bob Huggins had not won here since he was run out of town by Nancy Zimpher, then Cincinnati’s president.

That became the driving force, for these three seniors along with the rest of the team felt they had to find a way to battle the odds and win one for Huggins on the floor that once was his own.

On Friday they practiced, worked on stopping Cincinnati, a deep team with an 18-3 record and with an inside group that was as tall and strong as any California redwood forest. This was a team that didn’t freelance much out of its offense, but instead ran sets.

“We worked on disrupting the timing of their sets,” Mazzulla said.

That meant switching on picks and pressuring the ball, making them late with the entry pass, making the cutter a step slow as he fought through traffic.

The result was that the only player who could provide any offense was the guard, Cashmere Wright, and while he had an outstanding evening with 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting with four 3-pointers, he had to do it all on his own.

Cincinnati would finish with seven assists for the evening. But another way, they had one less than Mazzulla had for the game.

And, in the second half, they managed only two assists, so effective was the WVU game plan.

If WVU’s game plan was effective, UC’s was the opposite, for it focused on stopping the offense of Kevin Jones.

When they did that, Jones scoring only eight points, they left it open for Flowers and Mazzulla to score 16 each.

“I guess they made me the focal point,” Jones would say. “They gave me extra attention, and that’s fine. I trust my teammates. I don’t worry if I’m not scoring.”

He shouldn’t worry. Eight points, nine rebounds and no turnovers in 38 minutes is a nice evening for anyone.

And then it was over, and Huggins was leaving the locker room, heading for his radio show when a gray-haired legend came to see him, a basketball legend named Oscar Robinson.

He shook his hand and hugged Huggs, told him it was good win.

“They all are,” Huggins answered, before asking the Big O if he would be in New York for the Big East Tournament.

Assured that he would be there, Huggins said, “Great, I’ll buy you a drink.”

One suspects in the shadow of this victory, all the drinks that night would be on Huggins, who had his win in his old home town.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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