GETTING INSIDE All of a sudden the numbers are starting to mount for West Virginia senior forward Da'Sean Butler.
Come to think of it, it hasn't been so much all of a sudden, considering that by the time Butler leaves WVU he may be the all-time leader in games played, needing 13 games played to tie former guard Darris Nichols with 141.
Butler did something neither Jerry West nor Hot Rod Hundley ever did when he scored 27 points, including the final four points of the game as West Virginia beat Louisville, 77-74, on Jan. 30.
That was his 93rd career double-figure game, a school record. He'll try to stay hot against Pittsburgh Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum.
The 27 points moved him to within 229 of becoming just the third 2,000-point scorer in WVU history, the other two being the Hall of Famers West and Hundley. He had 10 regular-season games left after the Louisville game and at least two tournament games ... perhaps as many as nine postseason games.
It isn't, however, so much how many points he scores but when. If West was Mr. Clutch, Butler is as smooth as an automatic transmission at crunch time.
"That's just Da'Sean,'' forward Devin Ebanks said. "He's our leader. He comes up with big shots.''
Coach Bob Huggins couldn't have agreed more, especially after Butler clinched the Louisville game with his late burst.
"I just wish he wouldn't wait until the end,'' Huggins said.
--Fun note of the season from West Virginia: Jerry West's son, Jonnie, is a junior and has not had a turnover in almost three years. Used sparingly, West committed two turnovers in the same game during his freshman year and hasn't turned the ball over since. He has gone 44 games and more than 100 minutes without a turnover.
--F Wellington Smith continues to amaze with his outside shooting, scoring in double figures for the third straight game with 12 points against Louisville, hitting 2 of 3 3-pointers. He has hit nine of his past 12 3-pointers.
--G Truck Bryant had a box score line against Louisville that may never be duplicated, 0-for-6 shooting, all of them from 3-point range, but 8-for-8 from the free throw line with five assists and five steals.
ON THE SPOT: Freshman Deniz Kilicli, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound inside player who has been sitting out a 20-game suspension for playing on a team in his native Turkey that included a professional player, becomes eligible for the Pitt game. "I've been working hard for this moment,'' Kilicli said. "I know I am going to be very nervous.''
How much Kilicli plays at first is uncertain as he isn't in game shape and F Wellington Smith, whom he would replace, has been playing the best basketball of his career. Rest assured, coach Bob Huggins will work him into the rotation.
"He gives us size and girth we haven't had,'' Huggins said. "Because of our lack of size it's been difficult for us to score around the rim.''
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've kind of struggled to get out of the gate. We've really finished strong.'' -- Coach Bob Huggins, on the Mountaineers' penchant for falling behind at the half, something they have done seven times, and then fighting back to win or make a game of it.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: West Virginia rolled through its early schedule, winning its first 11 games, before being blown away in Purdue. It also lost a tough one-point decision to then No. 5 Syracuse at home and fell at Notre Dame. In that game, however, it put on one of its trademark rallies, coming back from 20-down at the half to lose by 10. Falling behind at the half has become a Mountaineer trademark, trailing seven times in 20 games but coming back to win four of them.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG Truck Bryant, F Devin Ebanks, C Wellington Smith, F Da'Sean Butler, F Kevin Jones. Key Subs -- PG Joe Mazzulla, G Casey Mitchell, F John Flowers, F Cam Thoroughman, G Dalton Pepper.
West Virginia 71, Ohio State 65
West Virginia 62, DePaul 46
West Virginia 77, Louisville 74
vs. Pitt, Wednesday
at St. John's, Saturday, Feb. 6
vs. Villanova, Monday, Feb. 8
at Pitt, Friday, Feb. 12
at Providence, Wednesday, Feb. 17
IN FOCUS: The Mountaineers find out if they are for real over a nine-day span. They play home-and-home with a surprising Pitt team that is among the Big East's best, and then play Villanova at home in a Big Monday showdown at their Coliseum. The Mountaineers and Villanova were preseason No. 1 and 2 in the Big East, Villanova being the No. 1 selection. How WVU's tight, switching man-to-man handles Villanova's speed will probably be the deciding factor.
--G Joe Mazzulla, unable to shoot the ball early in the season as he recovered from shoulder surgery that kept him out most of last year, is now so much improved that he is ready to begin shooting from the outside. "He's shooting 3s pretty well in practice,'' WVU coach Bob Huggins said.
Earlier in the year the shoulder was so bad that the left-handed Mazzulla was shooting free throws right-handed and could not even shoot a layup left-handed. After committing four fouls against DePaul, Huggins was moved to note that Mazzulla's shoulder has improved so much that "he fouls with both hands now.''
--F Deniz Kilicli becomes eligible for the Feb. 3 game against Pitt. He was serving a 20-game suspension for playing in Turkey on a team with a professional player.
West Virginia Basketball Notebook
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