Switch to matchup zone limits Walker, Huskies
Published: Thursday, March 3, 2011
Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2011 00:03
West Virginia entered Wednesday's game against No. 16 Connecticut as one of four teams battling for the Big East Conference's final two first-round byes.
The Mountaineers left the WVU Coliseum Wednesday night having done all they could to secure one, beating the Huskies 65-56, guaranteeing a winning season in the Big East.
"Coming into the game, I knew we were going to win," said forward Deniz Kilicli. "This was a must win. And when we know that, nobody can beat us."
Much of that credit can be given to limiting the Huskies' offense and standout point guard Kemba Walker, the Big East's second-leading scorer, for the remaining 10 minutes of the game. UConn made just three field goals in the final 10:48, one of which was a meaningless Walker 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.
It was the Mountaineers' match-up zone that kept the Huskies quiet. Although WVU ran the defense at times in the first half, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said the matchups made the defense more successful at halftime.
The change to the defense, which the Mountaineers ran against UConn last season, came out of "desperation," according to Huggins, after Walker and Shabazz Napier scored 13 straight Connecticut points, helping the Huskies take a 45-44 lead.
"Was it their change in defense (that cost us the game)? No," said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. "But it did change us up. We didn't score, so it must've worked."
Calhoun said his team was prepared for the change, as it had faced the defense in its last four games, two of which were losses.
Still, Connecticut finished 2-for-13 from the field in the final 10 minutes, allowing WVU to close the game on a 19-6 run.
"We wanted them to get confused," said WVU point guard Joe Mazzulla. "That was our point of emphasis."
The change of defense prevented the Huskies from driving the lane for close-range buckets. The team finished with just 14 points in the paint, only four of which came after halftime.
Walker, meanwhile, finished with a game-high 22 points, but ended the game just 1-for-7 from the field. Mazzulla guarded the point guard for much of the first half, although the Mountaineers frequently changed their coverage on the junior after halftime.
"He's one of the best scorers in the country," said WVU forward Kevin Jones. "We weren't going to keep him from scoring. But (Mazzulla) did a good job of limiting him."
West Virginia also outrebounded the Huskies 34-30. UConn entered the game as one of the best rebounding teams in the Big East.
"They won in Bob Huggins' style," Calhoun said. "They out-toughed us, and they played physical inside.
"We're a very good basketball team, but we didn't play tough enough tonight."