MORGANTOWN - Joe Mazzulla swears he doesn't often think about his one and only trip to the St. Pete Times Forum, but he does admit to a bit of nostalgia about it.
"I think,'' Mazzulla said with a smile, "that's when I began my trademark of playing the way I did that day.''
That would be a trademark of gritty, tough defense, sometimes against players whose size would seem to indicate they were the last ones on the floor that a plucky guard should, well, guard.
"I haven't thought that much about it because I haven't really had to do it much since then,'' Mazzulla said. "But it was fun. I enjoyed it.''
When Mazzulla and the rest of West Virginia's basketball team get to Tampa today in advance of Thursday's NCAA tournament opener against either Clemson or Alabama-Birmingham, it will be a return to the St. Pete Times Forum for a handful of the seniors.
John Flowers was a true freshman on the 2008 team that beat South Florida there, 69-52. He started that afternoon in place on an injured Joe Alexander and scored five points and grabbed four rebounds.
Jonnie West was a redshirt freshman and played at the end of the game, but just in the final seconds. Cam Thoroughman was also a redshirt freshman and didn't play.
And according to the official boxscore on Jan. 20, 2008, what Mazzulla did was nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, he scored what was then a career-high 11 points, had a couple of rebounds, two assists, a turnover, a steal and four fouls in 20 minutes.
No one who was in the arena that day, though, cared much about the final stats. What Mazzulla did wasn't something that shows up on a boxscore.
He spent most of the last 15 minutes of the game in the post. There he guarded South Florida's All-Big East center, Kentrell Gransberry.
For the record, Mazzulla is 6-foot-2 and at the time weighed a pretty solid 210 pounds. Gransberry was listed at the time as 6-9 and 270 pounds. In reality - according to the pre-draft workout measurements that would come a few months later - he was 6-7 and 290 pounds.
As I wrote that day, it bordered on the absurd. At best it was at times comical to watch.
But, boy was it effective.
Gransberry, at the time the only Big East player averaging a double-double, absolutely lit up the Mountaineers through the first half and the opening minutes of the second half as USF shot out to a five-point lead. The biggest Bull scored the Bulls' first 13 points of the half with Alexander, the team's best post defender, sitting on the bench with a groin pull.
By the time South Florida had a 38-33 lead, Gransberry had already scored 19 points. Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith tried to guard him, but he just pushed them out of the way.