The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 9, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU men find way on road

MORGANTOWN — It has taken a while, but it appears Bob Huggins has a basketball team you are going to love.

It isn’t as talented as last year’s Final Four group, not by a long shot ... or a layup.

It is anything but best of show at the Westminster Kennel Club. Instead, it is more like that runt of the litter that you just want to cuddle with.

To hear Huggins talk through the early season, he had you believing they were prepared only to play the role of the Washington Generals to the rest of the Big East’s Harlem Globetrotters.

Good thing, like so many kids today, they didn’t listen.

The fact of the matter is that, faced with extinction in the Big East race, a 1-3 start in a league that is filled with basketball royalty, they discovered they had a personality all their own and did it on the road, first at DePaul, now at Georgetown, winning 65-59.

True, they had not practiced very well the day before, which put some doubts in Huggins’ mind, doubts that were eased only slightly when, on the team bus to the Verizon Center for this 11 a.m. game, Huggins was asked by former star Da’Sean Butler how the team had practiced.

“God awful,” Huggins answered.

“Worse than we practiced last year before Louisville?” asked Butler.

Huggins couldn’t remember the practice, but he did remember the 77-74 victory, which made him smile.

Maybe this West Virginia group is one of those teams that marches to a different drummer, that can shake off the bad practice and come out and play a good game.

Certainly Casey Mitchell fits that description. The junior college transfer who struggled so badly a year ago just to find his niche has been the key to the Mountaineer offense all season, a shooting blue blood on a blue collar team.

His practice on Friday was miserable.

“I wore him out yesterday,” Huggins admitted. “He didn’t make hard cuts, didn’t set people up. He didn’t do the things good players do.”

Why waste them in an empty gym when you can save them for a national TV audience?

In the game, Mitchell was cutting hard, running hard, playing hard and scoring 28 points. At one point he scored nine points in a span of one minute and 14 seconds.

“He wanted the ball today,” Huggins said.

True, like so many of these Mountaineers, Mitchell can be infuriating at times, but he’s got that something extra inside him, just as do the likes of Joe Mazzulla and Cam Thoroughman and John Flowers ... players who no one will ever confuse with Jerry West but players who do the things that have to be done to win.

You want to know why you are going to end up loving this team?

Try the defensive job done by Flowers on Austin Freeman, the pre-season pick as Big East Player of the Year and the league’s second-leading scorer. At halftime Freeman had managed no points and just two shots, as Flowers had become a thorn to him.

Or try the way Thoroughman comes into a game and fails to score a point and commits three fouls and has three turnovers and still somehow makes some key defensive plays down the stretch, grabbing off rebounds and intercepting passes.

He is not an impressive player. He is a winning player.

And Mazzulla, whom you have loved since you first saw him bounce off the floor or dive over a bench trying to save a ball; he, too, finds ways to win games. He scored five points and recorded only one assist with two turnovers, but there was defense and ball handling, freeing Truck Bryant to create.

There they were, all of them, with Kevin Jones confident in his shooting, pounding the offensive glass and putting together his typical game of 15 points and eight rebounds.

It was Jones, in fact, who made what Huggins called “the play of the game,” stepping out and hitting a 3 when Georgetown sniffed out what was supposed to be a lob to Mazzulla. The basket broke a 52-52 tie and gave WVU the lead for good.

“We needed a good win, and this is a good win,” Huggins said. “You say you beat Georgetown at Georgetown. That’s better than beating Georgetown at home.”

As for the Hoyas?

Tough day, tough league.

“I was walking off the court with the security guard and I said to him, ‘Name me another league where Georgetown starts 1-3.’ It doesn’t happen,” Huggins said.

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

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