GETTING INSIDE It's been a miraculous season for West Virginia star Da'Sean Butler. He's leading the team with an average of 17.3 points a game, as the Mountaineers are in contention for the Big East championship and had 33 points against archrival Pittsburgh last week.
Monday, Villanova was in town playing for supremacy in the Big East race. It was the same Villanova team Butler had scorched for 43 points a year ago.
The stage was set at home for a huge game for Butler, but this time he didn't deliver.
Villanova was in Butler's face all night, using a triangle-and-two defense at times to assure Butler had no easy looks.
He finished with just 13 points and scored only two field goals all night. He had only one point in the second half when his team needed him the most and finished shooting 2-for-12 with four turnovers.
"I didn't do a good job,'' Butler admitted. "I usually lead by example. I did nothing.''
He wasn't upset about not coming near matching the 43-point performance of a year ago.
"I could not care less if I score two points if we could win the game,'' he said.
"We can't expect Da' to get 30 points every game and carry us,'' WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "Our other guys have to do things. When they're chasing him around and giving him that much attention, how do we not get a rebound? We got out-rebounded by eight, and that hasn't happened all year and they play four guards.''
VILLANOVA 82, WEST VIRGINIA 75: Villanova shot 63.3 percent in the first half while building an 11-point lead, held off a furious WVU comeback attempt in the second half, and made its free throws down the stretch in establishing its dominance in the Big East race with the victory.
The Wildcats took advantage of sloppy WVU play and an inability to shoot free throws, the Mountaineers finishing just 18-of-32.
At the same time, Villanova kept the ball in the hands of Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher late in the game. Reynolds hit 10-of-10 free-throw tries and had 21 points, while Fisher scored seven of his 17 points from the free-throw line.
"That was a great Big East victory for us,'' Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "WVU is always one of the toughest places to play, and we've always had trouble scoring here the way they play defense.''
On this night, the WVU defense was not so intimidating.
"They're good when they are able to step behind ball screens and make shots,'' WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "We tried to use our length to make it hard for them. We didn't do a very good job."
West Virginia plays at Pittsburgh on Friday while the Wildcats play at home on Saturday against Providence.
--West Virginia moved up to No. 4 in the Coaches' poll and No. 5 in the AP poll. Matched up with Villanova, which was No. 4 in the AP and No. 5 in the Coaches' poll, it marked the first time West Virginia was a top-5 team playing another top 5-team since 1960, when Jerry West was at WVU.
--WVU had been 54-5 when scoring 70 or more points under coach Bob Huggins before losing to Villanova, 82-75.
--F Da'Sean Butler had his season-high Feb. 6 against St. John's in Madison Square Garden as he scored 33 points and hit 7 of 7 three-point shots. With the output, Butler moved past Greg Jones and into fourth place all-time among WVU scorers with 1,822 career points. He recently passed Kevin Pittsnogle and Rod Thorn on the all-time list.
--F Devin Ebanks posted his fourth double-double of the season against St. John's as he had 12 points with 10 rebounds while leading the Mountaineers in assists with five and blocks with two.
--WVU point guard Truck Bryant finds himself caught up in a shooting slump, having hit only his last 28 shots, 25 percent. He has hit only two of his last 15 3-point attempts.
--F Kevin Jones has already surpassed his point total as a freshman and has scored in double figures in 19 of 22 games.
ON THE SPOT: West Virginia recruited Casey Mitchell out of Chipola Junior College in Florida, where he was a prolific scorer and the national Junior College Player of the Year. He was supposed to offer instant help, but he had problems adjusting to the Big East and as the season wore on his welcome wore out.
He couldn't make shots and had problems on defense. He had played just 40 minutes in the last 10 games, had a field-goal percentage of 29 percent for the season and had scored only six points in his last nine games.
But WVU found itself in a hole against Villanova and facing a triangle-and-two defense aimed at stopping Da'Sean Butler.
Mitchell came in and got hot, hitting 3 of 7 3-points shots and finishing with 12 points in just nine minutes. He helped cut an 11-point deficit to three, but WVU could not pull it out.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't buy into trap games. It doesn't do you any good to beat the best team in the league and lose to the worst team. You're still 1 and 1." -- Coach Bob Huggins, about facing a down St. John's team just two days before playing No. 2 Villanova.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Nothing has come easy for West Virginia despite its lofty preseason prediction being No. 2 in the Big East. It had to battle hard and improve slowly, but the last piece may be the addition of Turkish player Deniz Kilicli, a 6-9 difference maker who adds inside scoring and rebounding. He helped them past Pitt but had some defensive problems against St. John's, as Coach Bob Huggins brings him on slowly after sitting out a 20-game suspension.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- PG Truck Byant, F Devin Ebanks, C Wellington Smith, F Da'Sean Butler, F Kevin Jones. Key Subs -- PG Joe Mazzulla, C Deniz Kilicli, F John Flowers, F Cam Thoroughman, G Dalton Pepper.
West Virginia 77, Louisville 74
West Virginia 70, Pittsburgh 51
West Virginia 79, St. John's. 60
Villanova 82, West Virginia 75
at Pitt, Friday at 9 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center
at Providence, Wednesday, Feb. 17
vs. Seton Hall, Saturday, Feb. 20
at Connecticut, Monday, Feb. 22
IN FOCUS: The rematch against Pittsburgh comes after the Mountaineer student section went off color in a home victory and threw objects on the court, hitting a Pitt assistant. It should be a wild evening in the Oakland Zoo.
--F Da'Sean Butler, F Kevin Jones and F Deven Ebanks have scored 55 percent of the Mountaineers' points this season and are responsible for 54.4 percent of the rebounds.
--Coach Bob Huggins wanted to rest PG Joe Mazzulla in the St. John's game at the Garden, his shoulder in need of a break, but St. John's jumped to a 14-point first-half lead. Huggins had to go to his 1-3-1 press, and to do that he needs Mazzulla, who plays the back line. "I wasn't going to play him,'' Huggins said of Mazzulla, "but we have to try to win the game. Joe will take care of himself and work hard. I know how badly he wants to play against Villanova.''
West Virginia Basketball Notebook
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