MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Kevin Jones played like a preseason first-team all-Big East player and Joe Mazzulla gave another inspiring performance to lead West Virginia to a 65-56 victory over 16th-ranked Connecticut Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum.
Jones scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Mazzulla matched his career-high with 18 points for the Mountaineers in their next-to-last home game of the season. Jones made 6 of 11 from the floor, hit a 3, and handed out two assists in one of his best all-around performances of the year. Mazzulla, in addition to his 18 points, held Connecticut’s leading scorer Kemba Walker to just 8 of 23 from the floor. Walker did hit his average of 22 points per game.
“Joe was great,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “Joe gets 18 and five assists and does a great job guarding Kemba Walker.”
West Virginia (19-10, 10-7) jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead and led by nine before Shabazz Napier’s four-point play closed the margin to five. West Virginia led again by nine, 18-9, following a Casey Mitchell 3, but Connecticut scored seven straight points to reduce West Virginia’s lead to two, 18-16.
The Huskies tied the game at 22, and then took their first lead of the game, 26-25, with 44 seconds left on Napier’s layup. Mazzulla answered with a 3 right before the buzzer to give West Virginia a 28-26 halftime advantage.
“I thought we started out real well and then we went brain dead a couple of times and gave them open shots and our whole total emphasis getting ready for these guys was don’t give them step-in shots,” said Huggins. “Then we gave them step-in shots at the beginning of the second half.”
There were six ties in the second half and neither team led by more than three until Deniz Kilicli’s layup with 3:50 remaining put the Mountaineers up by five, 56-51. A Bryant free throw with 1:19 left got the lead to six, and following a pair of missed 3s by Jeremy Lamb, Bryant was able to cash in on four more free throws at the other end to make it a double-digit game.
West Virginia’s biggest lead was 12, 65-53, with 27 seconds remaining. Walker’s 3 with 14 seconds to goal was the final field goal of the game.
The Mountaineers shot 46.8%, including 5 of 12 for 41.7% from 3. West Virginia had a 34-30 advantage on the glass and hit 16 of 24 from the free throw line. The Mountaineers’ front line outscored UConn’s 29-13.
“You’ve got to hand it to our guys. We out-rebound them by four. How does that happen?” said Huggins. “We just continued to compete.”
Connecticut, now 21-8, 9-8, shot 37.3% overall and finished the game 17 points below its season average. Napier was the only other Husky player to reach double figures with 18 points. Walker and Napier scored all but 16 of Connecticut’s points.
“I looked at one time at the start of the second half and I thought, they were going to score 70 points the way the game was going,” said Huggins. “Then we kind of got settled in defensively. I think what we did with our point-drop was we made them burn a lot of clock to get shots. They like to play a little bit faster than sometimes we’re capable of playing.”
Reserve guard Jonnie West was not available for today’s game because of food poisoning, Huggins said during his post-game radio show.
Connecticut was the fourth nationally ranked team West Virginia has defeated this season.
"They won in what I would consider to be Bob Huggins' style, which is down the stretch from 2:12 to go," said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. "The out-touched us. We needed to play physically inside and get some rebounds."
A crowd of 13,241 was on hand for tonight’s game.
The victory assures West Virginia of its sixth consecutive winning season in Big East play and keeps the Mountaineers in contention for one of the eight first-round byes in next week’s Big East tournament. Presently, West Virginia is tied with Georgetown for sixth place in the league standings with a 10-7 conference record.
The Hoyas finish the regular season at Cincinnati on Saturday. The Bearcats got a big 67-60 win over Marquette in Milwaukee.
West Virginia takes on Louisville in its regular season finale at the WVU Coliseum on Saturday. The Cardinals are coming off an 87-60 win over Providence earlier tonight and are now third in the conference standings with a 12-5 record.
Saturday’s game will tip at noon and will be televised nationally on ESPN.