The Times West Virginian

February 21, 2011

Win offers WVU hope for stretch run

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — If you will remember a year ago, when West Virginia made its run to the Final Four, the Mountaineers relied heavily on a Big Three.

There was Da’Sean Butler, the top scorer and the heart and soul of the team; there was Devin Ebanks, tall and athletic and a shutdown defender, and there was Kevin Jones, Mr. Consistent.

It hasn’t worked that way this year, with players going up and down like yo-yos.

One day Casey Mitchell has 31 points, another day he has none, a third day he’s suspended.

One day Truck Bryant has 25, seven weeks later he has 24, in between he reaches double figures four times in 13 games.

One day Joe Mazzulla scores 18, the next day 16, the next three games he combines for eight points.

 John Flowers scores four against St. John’s, none against Marquette, three against DePaul and then 24 against Providence.

Kevin Jones hits double figures in eight straight games, then in just four of the next nine games.

If you are Bob Huggins, how do you coach when you don’t know in any given game where your points are coming from?

True, the defense has been consistent, but if you want to know why WVU wins a couple, loses a couple, it’s because the offense is uncertain and sporadic, the team as likely to score in the 50s as it is to score the 60s and more likely than to score in the 70s.

This year’s team is averaging 66 points a game in the Big East.

Last year’s team averaged 75.2 points a game in the Big East.

That certainly shows a major difference.

But the Notre Dame gave offered hope for the stretch run, hope that maybe another Big Three could develop as there was one last year.

It would be different in nature, for it is guard oriented, not front court as was Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks.

And it isn’t proven as scorers as that group became, but against Notre Dame it showed that it could step forward.

If WVU is going to go on a run and take into and through the conference tournament, it is going to need Joe Mazzulla, Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones to show the way.

Against Notre Dame they accounted for 54 of the 72 points — Bryant 24, Mazzulla 16 and Jones 14.

Throw in some steady play from John Flowers, who is more out of Devin Ebanks school than anywhere else, rebounding, blocking shots and playing defense, add in some power play down low from Cam Thoroughman and Deniz Kilicli and toss in a hot streak or two from Casey Mitchell, and you have the makings of a pretty good team.

“It hasn’t been that we haven’t played well,” Bob Huggins said the other day. “We just haven’t made shots.”

Against Notre Dame, Jones, Mazzulla and Bryant made shots and they were a different team.

It was the third time during the season they each scored in double figures and the team is 3-0 in those games.

"We always felt like we were [an NCAA tournament team]," Bryant said, "but today we looked like one. We made shots; we played defense."

Mazzulla explained it this way:

“One thing that has really hurt is that our lack of offense has put pressure on the defense. Every possession has been really important, and I don’t think we realized that,” Mazzulla said. “We came in making shots and played pretty good defense. When you shoot 25, 26 percent from the field you start to get discouraged and you don’t have the energy to go back on defense.”

Good defense is supposed to lead to good offense, but Mazzulla obviously believes it works the other way too, just as he and Bryant work in tandem.

Huggins was thrilled to see offense from Bryant.

“It’s his best game in a long time,” the coach said. “Not just he made shots. His decision making was better. No question he helps us with both those guys on the floor at the same time because now we have two guys who can handle the ball.”

And handle the situation, which is even more important with WVU’s next game at 9 p.m. Thursday at Pitt.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at