Mazzulla is key to another NCAA run
Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011
Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2011 00:03
West Virginia point guard Truck Bryant missed his fifth 3-pointer of the game Wednesday against No. 16 Connecticut, and he put his head down.
Within seconds, senior point guard Joe Mazzulla pulled Bryant toward him and whispered something in his ear.
Bryant went on, despite the misses, to hit 7-of-8 free throws to seal the 65-56 victory.
And while Mazzulla had nothing to do with those free throws, that talk surely did.
That's just what Mazzulla does. He's the leader that makes this West Virginia team go.
"I figure from the point guard spot, I should be that guy," Mazzulla said. "When you really demand to be a leader, they want to follow you."
West Virginia might not have a single player who is as important to the team's success as Da'Sean Butler was last year. But, it's hard to match what he meant to the Mountaineers in 2010.
Still, Mazzulla is nearly as important to the success of this year's team.
When looking at his statistics, it's apparent when the Mountaineers are at their best, it's when Mazzulla is in the game. It's even more visible when he's having success driving to the basket or hitting open shots.
Wednesday night is the perfect example.
In the first half of the game, Mazzulla was 6-of-7 – many of which were deep jumpers and two 3-pointers – while his teammates were 6-of-21 in the first half.
In fact, it was just the second time since Mazzulla injured his shoulder back in December 2009 that he has hit two 3-pointers in a game.
He finished with 18 points, which tied his career high, and also had five assists and four rebounds.
His defense means a bit more, though.
At points Wednesday, Mazzulla hounded the likely Big East Conference Player of the Year, Kemba Walker, in the first half and forced him to work a bit harder for his points.
While Walker finished with 22 points, most of those came when he was running in transition or when Mazzulla was out of the game.
And it's not just Walker. Mazzulla has been the man dealt the task of guarding some of the Big East's best guards, like Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs and Louisville's Peyton Siva.
He does what he has to for the team to win. He has throughout his career.
He's the team's best on-ball defender outside of forward John Flowers. He's really the only guard on the roster that can guard with any consistency, too.
That puts a lot of pressure on him to never have a bad game.
"I'm just trying to play within the offense and defense. When you have the confidence of (WVU head coach Bob Huggins), it makes it easier," Mazzulla said.
Rarely do fans understand how much Mazzulla means to this team, though. The most important aspect of his game doesn't show up on a stat sheet.
His leadership is something that has been consistent throughout the latter part of the season. When things start to go bad, he's the player who gets in his teammates' faces and tries to pick them up.
Mazzulla has started to step up his play as of late, and that will mean everything to the Mountaineers and their efforts to make a run.
He is the key to WVU's success.
When he scores and plays his usually solid defense, West Virginia is a significantly better team – one capable of making a run in the NCAA Tournament.