Mazzulla Likes UConn
Instead of sitting around all day waiting for people to post things on their Twitter sites to come up with something to write about this afternoon, I thought it more prudent to take matters into my own hands and get Joe Mazzulla’s thoughts on Saturday night’s Final Four game between Kentucky and Connecticut.
It was Mazzulla who had to guard the best two players remaining in the NCAA tournament – Connecticut’s Kemba Walker and Kentucky’s Brandin Knight.
“The way we tried to stop Kemba was by making every possession difficult for him to touch the ball,” explained Mazzulla. “If you kind of wear him down by denying him the ball and forcing him to get it at the 28-foot line, or beyond, then you have a better chance of stopping him than if he catches it in his scoring area.
“I think we did a good job of spreading their offense and forcing him to get the ball so far out to whereas he needed to make more than one move to get to the basket,” Mazzulla explained.
As for Knight, Mazzulla believes the key will be whether or not he makes shots early in the game.
“We went into the game against Kentucky going under ball screens and really forcing him to make jump shots and he hits his first two 3s, and that got him going,” said Mazzulla. “His key is can he knock down open shots early to get him into his offensive rhythm like he did against us?”
Mazzulla said the two players are slightly different in style and stature.
“Knight is a little bit taller, but I don’t know if he is quite as quick with the ball as Kemba Walker is,” Mazzulla said. “I think Knight really relies on his jump shot a little bit more than Kemba Walker does whereas Kemba tries to get into the lane and facilitate things.
“The key with Kemba Walker is forcing him into the lane and forcing him to make tough shots and kind of help in line and don’t give him the opportunity to dish it off like he did against Louisville,” Mazzulla said.
The other thing, according to Mazzulla, is those other guys besides Walker and Knight.
“Jeremy Lamb is going to play well, but I think it’s UConn’s bigs - I think they have to match (Kentucky center) Josh Harrellson’s intensity. He’s had a heck of a tournament and that was something that we didn’t do a good job of keeping him off the glass – he had a double-double against us. You know what you are going to get out of Harrellson so I think the bigs of UConn kind of have to respond and really shut him down.”
Specifically, that means Connecticut forward Alex Oriakhi is going to have to have a big game.
“He will be able to score against Harrellson, it’s just a matter of whether he will be able to stop him and will he be able to match his intensity and the emotion of the game?”
As for coaching, both Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Kentucky’s John Calipari are two of the best in the business. Mazzulla was particularly impressed with Calipari’s decision to put DeAndre Liggins on him in the second half of Kentucky’s 71-63 second-round victory over the Mountaineers in Tampa.
“I think that was a great move by Calipari,” Mazzulla said. “I can’t remember a guard like Liggins that Kemba Walker has played against this past year. He’s had different players guard him, but I don’t know if he’s had that length on him and I’m sure that will be a key.
“Those are two coaches who really kind of trust their players and, yes, they do a lot of Xs and Os, but at the same time, they have their players prepared during timeouts and obviously before the game so they don’t have to make those types of adjustments,” said Mazzulla.
Neither team really goes that deep into its bench so Mazzulla believes depth won’t be a major issue in the game unless there are a lot of fouls called.
“They both are playing the same amount of guys,” he said. “I think it comes down to some of the guys people are not talking about like Oriakhi, Harrellson and (Jeremy) Lamb because he takes a lot of pressure off of Kemba Walker, especially on the offensive end of the floor.”
Mazzulla said he will be in front of the television watching the game like the rest of us and he believes it very well could come down to the last possession to determine the winner.
“Both teams are relatively solid on defense and both can score,” he said. “We had so much trouble with Kentucky because of the fact that we could not stop them from scoring. The thing that I will watch is how both teams are scoring. Is it going to be all Kemba Walker or Brandin Knight? Or is it going to be more spread out? If it’s spread out, UConn kind of has the advantage.”
Mazzulla says he gives Connecticut the slight edge because he believes the Huskies might be a little bit better than Kentucky in the half-court game.
“If you watch Kentucky play they ran the same play against us almost the entire second half and they also did it against North Carolina. It’s the same exact set where they circle the guard,” Mazzulla said. “What they try to do is to get the ball to the middle of the floor where you collapse and they knock down 3s, like they did against us, or they finish at the rim.
“Their offense is relatively simple, whereas UConn does have sets to really get Kemba the ball in position to have him do what he does. I think that’s why it will come down to UConn because I think at some point in the Final Four it becomes a half-court game.”
So there you have it from a guy who has seen both teams up close – and done so in more than 140 characters.
NCAA Final Four, Kentucky, UConn, Kemba Walker, Brandin Knight, Joe Mazzulla
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2015 NCAA Tournament Report #7