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WVU's Mazzulla leads the way

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Monday, March 29, 2010

West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins is known for many things, but being an offensive strategist isn't one of them.

Yet Huggins' offense - led by surprising point guard guard Joe Mazzulla -- performed with precision and efficiency in the second half of West Virginia's 73-66 win over Kentucky in the East Regional final.

The Mountaineers (31-6) will face Duke (33-5) in a national semifinal at approximately 8:47 p.m. Saturday in Indianapolis.

Against a stout Kentucky defense that limited each of its first three opponents in the NCAA Tournament to less than 36 percent shooting in the second half, WVU converted 57.1 percent of its field-goal attempts after halftime, including 10 of 13 two-point baskets.

In the first half, the Mountaineers missed all 16 two-point attempts while converting 8 of 15 on 3-pointers.

What caused the turnaround in two-point production?

"We'ree not as good in the first half as we are in the second half because people get tired of chasing it," Huggins said. "They get tired of being screened. They get tired of chasing those curls.

"We got nothing at the rim in the first half. We got a lot of things at the rim in the second half."

Mazzulla scored a season-high 17 points - 14 in the second half - and shot a perfect 5 for 5 after halftime.

"He did a great job of pushing it in transition," Kentucky freshman John Wall said. "Instead of us stopping the ball, we were running back and chasing the person running to the 3-point line. He's not a bad player, so he's going to take it right to the basket."

Mazzulla said Huggins' decision to run a more methodical offense in the second half wore out Kentucky's defenders.

"We're at our worst when we take forced shots and don't execute," Mazzulla said. "When we force John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins to come off screens and chase us, I think it wears them down and gets them tired."

Ironically, Mazzulla gained confidence in his offense after draining his first 3-pointer of the season in the first half - his only 3-pointer in the game.

When Wall defended against the jumper, Mazzulla dribbled to the basket.

"It was only a matter of time before I actually hit one," Mazzulla said of his three-pointer.

The beauty of Huggins' equal-opportunity offense is that during crunch time in West Virginia's biggest game of the season, the coach implored Mazzulla, averaging less than three points a game, to look for his shot.

"He's shooting the ball extremely well," Huggins said. "In practice, he really makes shots. He turned down a shot in the game. So I told him: 'Will you please shoot the ball when they don't guard you?' "

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