The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 3, 2011

WVU uses hustle, ‘D’ in 65-56 victory over UConn

MORGANTOWN — If you are beginning to feel just a little bit like last year when West Virginia University turned a season about to go wrong into a run to the Final Four in the closing days of the regular season, do not feel alone.

The Mountaineers are starting to get that feeling, too.

A year ago they lost three of five, the last a rather ugly 11-point defeat at Connecticut before all of the pieces came together and they took off on an unexpected and improbable run of 10 straight victories, all the way through the Big East Tournament and to the Final Four.

Could the late-year magic be back, complete with a rather impressive 65-56 victory No. 16 before 13,241 wild fans who were sure they had more trouble from the officiating team of Jim Burr, Michael Stephens and James Breeding Jr. than they did with the Connecticut team Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun coached.

What is happening, you see, is that coach Bob Huggins has taken a team that wasn’t nearly as talented as last year, nursed it along, let it take its bumps and bruises along the way, kept it interesting, improving and believing, even through a loss to Marshall and another to Miami until now it has won three of its last four. Two of those have been over ranked teams in UConn and Notre Dame.

And they are doing it their way, with hustle and defense … the Bob Huggins way.

“They won in what I would consider to be Bob Huggins’ style, which is down the stretch with 2:12 to go,” Calhoun would say in the aftermath. “They out-toughed 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,” Calhoun continued. “We’re a very good basketball team that, quite frankly, didn’t play tough enough.”

It was with 2:12 left that a timeout came with WVU clinging to a 3-point lead. When Alex Oriakhi missed a free throw that was collared by John Flowers, the entire complexion of the game began to change.

Huggins ran a play that forced the ball inside to Flowers, who went up for a challenged jump shot and missed it, but this was where the toughness showed at its best as Kevin Jones, who had an absolutely amazing evening, fought his way for the offensive rebound and put it back up for the basket.

Instead of a one-point game, had Oriakhi made his two free throws, WVU’s lead had grown to five and UConn was out of gas, mainly because their star player, Kemba Walker of the 22.8 scoring average, was being harassed and hassled.

A subtle coaching move was made by Huggins, who went to a point-drop zone, something he tried in the first half.

This time he changed the positioning of his personnel and took the gas from Walker’s tank. He hit his average with 22 points, but down the stretch he hit only one of seven shots in the last six minutes, that being a meaningless 3-point shot with 13 seconds left to play.

“We never let him get an easy look,” said guard Joe Mazzulla, who not only did a strong defensive job but also tied his career high of 18 points. “Plus he had to guard the ball throw screens and back screens, and we wore him down.”

Why did Huggins make that change?

“It was desperation is what it was,” Huggins explained. “They were scoring every possession.”

It was even worse than that. UConn had hit seven of its last eight shots before Huggins made the move.

While all of this was going on there were the cases of Jones and Flowers, both of whom played absolutely critical roles in what may be the biggest victory of the season.

Jones went through a dreadful shooting first half, hitting but one of six shots and looking so lost at times that you expected him to reach into his shorts and pull out a GPS.

“It’s horrible, frustrating,” Jones said of going through such a dismal shooting half. “But you have to keep your head up.”

Actually it was Huggins who propped his head up, running a play out of halftime that got him an open shot that he buried, one of six assists from Cam Thoroughman. Jones would not miss again, hitting all five shots in the second half, finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds and making the key play in the game.

Then there was Flowers, who was the most efficient player on the floor, hitting three of four shots, picking of six rebounds, getting four assists, two blocks and two steals.

The second steal was as crucial as anything that occurred all evening, for it came with the score 54-51 in favor of the Mountaineers, but a blocking foul had been called on Mazzulla that had the fans screaming words that cannot be printed here.

Connecticut could have cut the lead to two or tied the score as it took the ball out under its own basket, but Flowers stole the inbounds pass and got it to Deniz Kilicli who scored at the other end, bringing the crowd to full throttle.

Huggins has been awed by the way Flowers has made himself into a player, hitting free throws and threes and playing defense, completely changing himself as a player.

“We’re going down the floor, Mazzulla yells at me, ‘How do you want to guard those staggers?’” Huggins recalled. “Then Flowers yells at me, ‘Are we switching staggers?’ Switching staggers? Four years ago a stagger was a bar downtown to him.”

In the end it was UConn who wound up staggering while WVU ended up with its 10th conference game with a Saturday home game against Louisville left on the schedule. With the win and one by Cincinnati over Marquette, the Mountaineers are in a three-way tie for sixth place in the Big East with Cincinnati and Georgetown.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at

Text Only
WVU Sports
  • Gyorko, Padres agree to extension

    Jedd Gyorko, who hasn’t hit much of anything with a .178 start on this season, hit the jackpot on Monday, signing a six-year contract extension with the San Diego Padres for $35 million with a one-year club option at $13 million.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Spring game showed defense has improved

    From Dana Holgorsen’s viewpoint, which was standing right behind the offense, West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday was a rousing success for it showed very little of what the Mountaineers will be in this coming season, probably not even showcasing the man who will direct the offense in the quarterback position.

    April 15, 2014

  • WVU signs guard; Adrian arrested for DUI

    There was something good and something bad for West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins this past weekend as Kansas junior college player Tarik Phillip committed to play for the Mountaineers but rising sophomore Nathan Adrian was charged with Under 21 DUI after he was stopped at 1:20 a.m. Sunday for an expired registration sticker.

    April 15, 2014

  • FURFARI COLUMN- Most plays good, some not so good in Gold-Blue scrimmage

    There appeared to be a fine mixture of plays, most good with some not so good, in last Saturday’s West Virginia University’s Gold-Blue football scrimmage.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Garrison still proving he can carry the ball

    The running back raves from the West Virginia coaching this spring have been directly mostly toward Wendell Smallwood, and rest assured he earned every one of them with his versatility, but it was a reborn running back who well may have taken the biggest jump up the depth chart.

    April 14, 2014

  • WVU baseball drops seventh straight game

    One’s athletic skills are tested on a daily basis but every so often other aspects of an athlete’s makeup are tested, often far more important aspects in the game of life.

    April 14, 2014

  • Gold-Blue Game answers few questions at quarterback

    Dana Holgorsen finds himself in a quarterback quandary.
    He’s looking to have one quarterback and has five of them as spring practice ends, and nothing about the spring session has done anything to straighten out the situation.

    April 13, 2014

  • Moore ‘back at home’ under center

    There are a couple of ways to look at what Logan Moore did this spring after being moved back to quarterback and given a chance to compete for what is a wide open job, as wide open at the end of the spring as it was coming in.
    The first is to say that he didn’t wow Dana Holgorsen to the point that he’s willing to say he’s the leader going into summer drills, but that would be shortsighted considering from where Moore came.

    April 13, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU punter turns heads at linebacker

    They call him “Huey the Punter.”
    His real name is Houstin Syvertson. His real position is not punter. Not anymore, anyway.
    To be honest, until Saturday’s spring game, not many people following West Virginia football knew the name or the nickname. They know it now.

    April 13, 2014

  • Fans looking for answers in WVU Gold-Blue Game

    Perhaps the most important spring practice in Dana Holgorsen’s tenure as West Virginia football coach comes to a conclusion at 1 p.m. today when the annual Gold-Blue Spring Football Game is held at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
    The gates open at noon and tickets are $10 with net proceeds benefiting WVU Children’s Hospital.

    April 12, 2014

Featured Ads
WVU Sports Highlights
NDN Sports
House Ads
NCAA Breaking News
NCAA Photos