Jones, Mazzulla outshine Walker, Connecticut to keep Big East bye alive
Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011
Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2011 00:03
With less than two minutes left, West Virginia forward Kevin Jones did what he does best.
The junior grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed shot by fellow forward John Flowers and hit what could be considered the decisive layup in the Mountaineers 65-56 victory over No. 16 Connecticut Wednesday.
Despite starting the game 1-of-6, Jones was a perfect 5-of-5 in the second half to lead WVU to a crucial victory that kept it alive for a first-round bye in next week's Big East Conference Tournament.
Jones finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Mountaineers in front of a WVU Coliseum crowd of 13,241.
"Kevin just seems to make shots when you need them," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
With the game tied at 51 with more than seven minutes to play, WVU ended the game on a 14-5 run with the use of a match-up zone defense.
WVU forward Deniz Kilicli got the ball along the baseline and hit an up-and-under layup that gave the Mountaineers a 53-51 lead that they would not surrender for the rest of the contest.
WVU's lead swelled to as many as 12 points, as point guard Truck Bryant hit 7-of-8 free throws to close out the game.
After his hot start to the second half, Walker finished the game cold – hitting just 1-of-7 shots in the final seven minutes. He finished with a team-high 22 points.
"In the first half, I had a lot of shots that were close inside that I didn't capitalize on," Jones said. "My teammates just told me to calm down and keep playing."
WVU quickly got the crowd into the action, as it started the contest on a 7-0 run, which forced UConn head coach Jim Calhoun to take a quick timeout.
Out of the timeout, the Mountaineers stretched their lead to 11-2, as they continued to feed off of turnovers by the Huskies.
Kilicli came up with the most electrifying play of the first half when he slammed home a dunk and gave WVU a 22-16 lead. The 6-foot-9 forward drove to his left and dunked the ball over two defenders.
With UConn down early, Walker started to find open looks from the floor and rallied the Huskies to a one-point advantage with 25 seconds remaining in the half.
WVU would take a 28-26 lead into halftime, as point guard Joe Mazzulla hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the half.
Mazzulla netted 14 first-half points and was the lone WVU player to score more than three points in the opening frame. He finished with a team-high 18 points.
"We are 100 percent better when Joe is scoring," Flowers said. "That is especially true when he is driving the lane."
At the beginning of the second half, both teams took part in back-and-forth action that saw them trading buckets and possessions.
"It seemed like they didn't miss for at least 10 straight possessions," said forward Cam Thoroughman. "I just said, ‘Oh my God,' at those shots."
Huskies' guard Shabazz Napier took control of the offense in the second half, as he opened the half 4-of-4 from the field and scored six straight UConn points. He finished with 18 points.
"Shabazz Napier saved us early on when some of the other guys on our team looked like they had never played in a Big East game before," said Huskies' head coach Jim Calhoun.
"We're pretty deep in the season to have a feeling like that."
WVU shot 46.8 percent for the game. The Mountaineers shot 52.6 percent in the second half. Connecticut was held to 33.3 percent in the second half.
Despite UConn's size advantage inside, the Mountaineers had a 20-to-14 advantage in the paint. WVU also out-rebounded UConn by four.