LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The difference between the first half and the second for West Virginia and Joe Mazzulla on Wednesday night was like day and night.
The first half was bright and the second dark.
It was especially that way for Mazzulla, who scored 18 first-half points and then no second-half points in WVU's 55-54 loss at Louisville. In fact, after making eight-of-10 first-half shots - including two rare 3-pointers - Mazzulla managed only two second-half shots and missed them both.
Then again, everyone missed second-half shots as the Mountaineers went 4-for-22 from the floor.
"They did a much better job closing the driving lanes and the passing lanes,'' Mazzulla said.
There were times early in the game when West Virginia appeared to be exactly what most expected - overmatched and undermanned - playing without suspended leading scorer Casey Mitchell and using only seven players.
It didn't help any, either, that the Mountaineers forgot to defend the perimeter right out of the gate and gave up two quick 3-pointers. By the time Terrence Jennings slammed home a rebound about six minutes in, Louisville led 14-7.
"I thought we came out early like we were supposed to lose,'' said WVU coach Bob Huggins. "We weren't very assertive.''
But that changed quickly and then came what - under the circumstances - might have been the most impressive stretch of basketball the Mountaineers have played all year. With Mazzulla seemingly unable to miss and everyone else chipping in as well, West Virginia went on a 17-2 tear to take the lead before a stunned crowd.
That gave the Mountaineers a 24-16 lead and, despite six turnovers across the final six minutes of the half, WVU never let the Cardinals back into it. Playing a stiff defense that forced nine first-half turnovers, West Virginia held Louisville to one field goal in a seven-minute span and stretched the lead to 11 at halftime, 37-26.
The Mountaineers maintained most of that lead in the early part of the second half and still found themselves up by 11, 42-31, as the clocked passed the 15-minute mark before Louisville wiped it out in one quick spurt and then eventually won the game in the final, frantic seconds.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino said his team adjusted "everything'' in the second half, not just the defense on Mazzulla.
"We were giving him his left hand and really going for the ball fake,'' Pitino said. "We were really concentrating on stopping other people. Not that we don't have respect for Mazzulla. ... But we knew where he was in the second half.''
The weather in Louisville Wednesday night wasn't all that bad. Snow had fallen the night before, but none during the day and there was no more an inch on the ground.