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Mazzulla Shows He Can Carry Truckload

March 28, 2010
By JIM ELLIOTT

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - West Virginia's Joe Mazzulla didn't just cut down a piece of the net after West Virginia advanced to its first Final Four in 51 years Saturday night at the Carrier Dome.

He sliced the whole thing, then wore it as if it were a necklace.

Mazzulla, whose shoulder injury made a lot of people forget he's been an NCAA Tournament hero in the past, was named the East Regional's Most Valuable Player after his 17 points helped West Virginia beat top-seeded Kentucky and advance to Saturday's national semifinal in Indianapolis.

So, when does the guy who was averaging 2.2 points per game plan to stop wearing his newfound nylon bling?

''Not until they make me,'' he said.

Mazzulla looked as cool off the court as he did on it, as he sat in a locker room with heavy hitters from the national media throwing question after question at him, answering them with the same way he beat Kentucky's celebrated freshman guard John Wall off the dribble or played the back end of the 1-3-1 zone defense against 6-foot-11, 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins.

He left both guys wondering how they let a 6-2, 200-pound mini-mite get the best of them.

Cousins was completely lost against this ankle-biter.

At times, Mazzulla messed up Cousins' footwork and caused a travel. The rest of the time, he messed with his head.

''He looked at me and said, 'are you serious right now?' I was like, 'what?' and he just looked at me and I said, 'yeah, I'm being serious.' ''

It was the same spot J.D. Collins, Darris Nichols and Alex Ruoff found themselves in before him. You have to be fast, and you have to knowledgeable to play to be the last '1' in that complicated defense. Apparently, being big or tall, even against the best big man in the country, is optional.

''You have to have a quarterback-leadership type mentality to direct the other four guys because they can't see what's going on behind them,'' Mazzulla said. ''You have someone that can communicate with the rest of the guys.''

Kentucky struggled mightily against the 1-3-1, which West Virginia played for most of the 40 minutes. Rather than attacking it, the Wildcats opted to shoot over it and missed their first 20 3-point shots.

When they did go down low, it wasn't as automatic as it has been. The guy who won the MVP award for his blow-by offensive drives to the basket was the last man standing on that defense.

''It was pretty tough,'' Wall said. ''He was holding on pretty tough to DeMarcus. We couldn't get it to him. We don't know what he was doing down there.''

Mazzulla's first couple of shots on the offensive end, on those same dribble drives he had so much success with in the second half, found the third row.

''Well, you've got nothing to lose,'' Mazzulla said. ''They've got like four lottery picks so what's the worst that could happen? Wall smacked one of my layups, but that's supposed to be what he does because that's how good he is. You just go out there with no fear and no pressure because you've got absolutely nothing to lose.''

Later, he saw lanes open wide enough to drive a truck through - no pun intended, as he was playing in place of Truck Byrant - and converted.

''He did a great job of pushing it in transition,'' Wall said. ''Instead of us stopping the ball like we had been doing all year, we were running back and chasing the guy on the 3-point line. He's not a bad player, so he's going to take it right to the basket.''

In the end, no one was talking about the Mountaineers lack of a point guard without Bryant.

One guy even brought up Mazzulla's big game against Duke two years earlier.

''You're the only guy that's ever mentioned that because everyone says we don't have another point guard,'' Mazzulla snapped.

At the Final Four, they'll find about its other one.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at elliott@theintelligencer.net

 
 

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