The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 30, 2011

Intense WVU bounces back

Mazzulla leads way in 66-55 win over Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — There is this bond between West Virginia University coach Bob Huggins and point guard Joe Mazzulla that is as strong as two men can have.

It is as if Huggins’ vibes, the aura that he creates, reach out and suck Mazzulla in, for he is the same type of player, the same type of competitor that Huggins was himself, although Huggins maintains “I shot better than him.”

But it seems, at the most crucial moments, Mazzulla absorbs all of Huggins fire and strength and will to win, gathers it into an endless ball of energy and turns it loose. He did it again Saturday night against Cincinnati, leading WVU to a 66-55 victory over the school that sent Huggins packing, scoring 16 points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out eight assists and collecting nine or 10 new bruises in the process.

It was no different than the way his best games always seem to come in the moments of the biggest need, be it an NCAA battle against Duke or an Elite Eight confrontation with Kentucky.

When needed, Mazzulla is there, and this was one of those moments, for WVU was short of players, coming off a heart-breaking loss which Mazzulla did everything possible to avoid, scoring a career-high 18 points.

Mazzulla, though, takes no credit, giving it instead to Huggins.

“It starts with Huggins,” Mazzulla would say. “Some coaches would panic in this situation. Huggs loves it.”

“I’ve never been one to run when people think I can’t do something,” Huggins explained. “I tell them, that’s when you show them you can do it.”

Somehow, that message seems to put the voltage into Mazzulla. You see it in his walk, in his eyes, in his style.

“That’s just Joe,” John Flowers said. “He’s a blue collar guy and he’s crazy. That helps.”

Mazzulla turns basketball games into Holy Wars, and this one was going to be just that from the opening tip off when James Breeding got hit in the face with an elbow, leaving him grabbing at his nose and wiping away the tears running down his cheeks.

And that was just the start.

There was a moment with 4 minutes left in the first half when UC’s Dion Dixon drove in for a layup and scored to cut WVU’s lead to a point at 25-24, but on the play, the Bearcats’ Justin Jackson elbowed Kevin Jones in the face and was hit with a technical foul that infuriated his coach, Mick Cronin, was badly that he sent him to the locker room.

Cronin didn’t settle down much after Truck Bryant hit the two free throws for moments later John Flowers stole the ball from Yancy Gates, drove the floor and scored, Cronin believing there was a foul on the steal so strongly that he was hit with a technical.

While that didn’t decide the outcome, it did offer a glimpse at the intensity with which this game was played, making it the perfect showcase for Huggins and Mazzulla.

The game was tight at 42-41 when Mazzulla and the Mountaineers took over, rushing off on a 15-2 run that left Cincinnati reeling. Mazzulla had six points and two assists – each on a 3-point shot – meaning he had a hand in 12 of the 15 points.

Huggins walks something of a tightrope with Mazzulla because of his competitive flair.

“He competes,” Huggins said. “With him there’s a fine line because if you get him too charged up, he fouls like crazy. We can’t have foolish fouls.”

Not with only eight players, each of whom had a hand in this one.

If Mazzulla was the star, John Flowers was the co-star, scoring 16 points after a tough game against Louisville, eight rebounds and four more blocks, giving him 50 to stand second in the Big East in blocks.

Then there was Cam Thoroughman, hitting two key free throws, making a steal, recording two assists and not turning the ball over in 24 minutes.

Deniz Kilicli came off the bench to supply a spark with eight points and seven rebounds while Kevin Jones moved to with three points of 1,000 for his career as he had eight points and nine rebounds, also without a turnover.

The victory moved the Mountaineers into a tie for third place in the Big East.

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

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