TAMPA, Fla. - A week ago, Joe Mazzulla expressed a certain amount of shock when Marquette actually came out and defended him during the Big East tournament.
The Golden Eagles, of course, had seen Mazzulla control a few West Virginia basketball games of late, both with his playmaking and drives, as well as some rare 3-point explosions. So unlike most teams that routinely ignore Mazzulla on the perimeter, Marquette picked him up before halfcourt and stayed with him.
Mazzulla said it was shocking because it was "the first time I'd actually been guarded.''
Trust that Mazzulla will be guarded today. If Marquette was determined to eliminate the things Mazzulla showed he might do, Kentucky has painful first-hand knowledge of what he can do.
Mazzulla and No. 22 and fifth-seeded West Virginia (21-11) face No. 11 and fourth-seeded Kentucky (26-8) today in the NCAA tournament's East Regional at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tipoff is at 12:15 p.m. and the game will be carried nationally by CBS.
In addition to being for a trip to next weekend's East Regional in Newark, N.J. - where the winner is likely to face overall No. 1 seed Ohio State - today's game is also a rematch of last year's East Regional final in Syracuse. West Virginia, a No. 2 seed then, upset No. 1 seed Kentucky 73-66 to earn its way into the Final Four.
And Mazzulla was a huge reason why. He scored 17 points, shocked the Wildcats with a 3-pointer and multiple drives to the basket and was named the region's outstanding player.
Even if so many of the faces have changed from that game, Kentucky certainly remembers what Mazzulla did and will try to make sure he doesn't do it again.
Mazzulla, though, isn't so sure the Wildcats are going to put any kind of special focus on him.
"I'm not sure they're going to get away from what they've been doing the entire season,'' Mazzulla said Friday. "We're expecting them to pick us up at halfcourt and really defend us, so we're going to have to depend on our motion offense to get them spread so we can get them to chase us and we can open up lanes for Truck [Bryant] and I.''