That, was a good one. I may even go out on a limb and say that may be the Mountaineer's best performance of the season. It was such a tightly contested game, but the 'Eers never got rattled and never let it get away from them. It could've gone wrong any number of times, but the Mountaineers never flinched. Here's what I love about this win:
- Joe Mazzulla. Joe is the great x-factor for the postseason. As he goes, goes the team. If he plays well, there's no one they can lose too. If he doesn't, there's no one they can beat. His assist to turnover ratio has been insane at 24-5 over the last four, and his shot has fallen with much more frequency. He strafed the Huskies for 18 tonight, hitting both his threes in the process and burying two more deep jumpers. His offensive game is coming together at just the right time and the Mountaineers desperately needed it. The quintessential college player, Joe may know his days are numbered and he's playing his heart out. If it continues, the 'Eers could go far in March.
- Crashing the boards. The 'Eers did some dirty work on the glass tonight, and it paid off. Kevin Jones hauled in ten, to complete his third double double in the last four games. Deniz Kilicli, who had his usual up and down day, made some big plays crashing the offense glass. His hook wasn't falling, but he turned in a huge dunk and blocked a shot into the seats to make up for it. Cam Thoroughman turned in a hallmark Cam performance doing everything and getting into the scrum whenever it was called for. He finished with 6 assists. That's amazing for a guy whose role it is to be the thug. I think. Maybe his role is to just do it all?
- Flow and Joe lock it down. West Virginia's defense is what will keep it in games against better basketball teams, and that showed tonight. The match-up zone worked well in the second half, and UConn looked generally frustrated, despite some good shooting from Shabazz Napier. His more heralded running-mate, Kemba Walker, was pestered by Mazzulla and Flowers all night and only made 8 of his whopping 23 shots. Walker was constantly taken out of the play, and never dictated the pace of the game. It was a valiant, and ultimately successful, defensive effort from the gold and blue tonight.
- Setting up the postseason. It's all about momentum, and now West Virginia has some. They win an important game and are now tied for sixth. Most importantly, as the mid-conference pack begins to break apart, the Mountaineers are moving towards the top. This makes a first round bye in the conference tourney a real possibility, and when it comes down to winning the thing, every little bit helps. If the Mountaineers can put together a good showing Saturday against Louisville, they could enter the postseason as one of the conference's hottest teams. Let's face it, over the last five or six seasons, the West Virginia Mountaineers have over-achieved in the month of March. The time is now, and all of a sudden, the 'Eers look like a more stable bunch than they have all season.
A quick turnaround and Louisville is at the Coliseum on Saturday for Senior Day. I'll be back Saturday morning with your game preview.