West Virginia beats No. 16 Connecticut 65-56
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—West Virginia’s late defensive clampdowns in two straight games have the Mountaineers in contention for a first-round bye in the Big East tournament.
Kevin Jones scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, West Virginia held No. 16 Connecticut to two field goals over the final 10 minutes and the Mountaineers beat the Huskies 65-56 on Wednesday night.
West Virginia’s fourth win over a ranked opponent this season has the Mountaineers (19-10, 10-7) confident they will be among the large pack from the conference selected for the NCAA tournament.
Just like a 65-54 win over Rutgers on Sunday, when West Virginia held the Scarlet Knights to one field goal over the final 5:32, the Mountaineers came up with stop after stop down the stretch against Connecticut (21-8, 9-8) .
The Huskies went 2 of 17 from the field over the final 10 minutes and were outscored 19-9.
“It was a real big win Sunday,” West Virginia guard Joe Mazzulla said. “But I think this was a little bit bigger.”
Mazzulla tied his career high with 18 points, only three coming in the second half. Jones had 10 rebounds for his second straight double-double.
Kemba Walker led Connecticut with 22 points on 8-of-23 shooting and Shabazz Napier added 18.
“We wanted to make every shot difficult for them and make them work hard for everything,” Mazzulla said.
West Virginia shot 53 percent (10 of 19) from the field after halftime and moved into a three-way tie with Georgetown and Cincinnati for sixth place in the Big East entering the conference’s final weekend. The Mountaineers beat Georgetown and Cincinnati earlier this season.
Coach Bob Huggins wanted the Mountaineers to stay out of foul trouble because of a thin lineup. Backup guard Jonnie West was held out of the game due to food poisoning and West Virginia used just eight players.
Connecticut attempted two free throws in the first half and was outscored 16-5 from the line for the game.
“West Virginia won in what I would consider to be Bob Huggins style,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. “They out-toughed us. We needed to play physically inside and get some rebounds. We made some very poor choices on offense and we didn’t do a good job the whole game of taking away their post play.”
Just like in a 67-59 win over Cincinnati on Sunday, Connecticut had few leads against the Mountaineers.
The Huskies jumped ahead briefly just before halftime and didn’t lead again until a 3-pointer by Walker put them ahead 43-42 with 12:35 remaining. That, too, didn’t last long.
“They seemed like they got a little bit out of rhythm,” Huggins said.
The lead changed hands five more times over the next 3 minutes, with John Flowers’ hook shot with 9:36 remaining giving the Mountaineers the lead for good.
Flowers’ basket started a 10-3 run, with Deniz Kilicli’s layup putting the Mountaineers ahead 56-51 with 3:52 left.
Napier’s jumper with 2:49 remaining broke a 5-minute scoring drought and brought the Huskies within 56-53, but West Virginia scored the next nine points, with Truck Bryant making seven free throws over the final 1:19.
Connecticut shot 37 percent (22 of 59) for the game and was outrebounded 30-23.
“We didn’t play with the kind of energy we needed and it’s very disappointing,” Calhoun said.
West Virginia scored the game’s first seven points and extended the lead to 18-9 on Casey Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 9:09 left until halftime.
The Mountaineers then went 4 minutes without scoring and Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi hit a jumper to tie the score at 22-22 with 4 minutes remaining.
Mazzulla hit a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left that gave the Mountaineers a 28-26 halftime lead.