Road Trippin'

When freshman Da'Sean Butler hit the road in the Big East for the first time, he found that it hits back.

Butler appeared frustrated as West Virginia dropped games at No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 24 Marquette to fall out of the top 25 and move to 0-3 against major conference foes away from home. He had been settled in an earlier game against then-No. 9 Connecticut by senior Frank Young, who talked to the first-year player during dead balls and timeouts. But on the road, in games in which the Mountaineers not only didn't have a comfortable lead, but were fighting back though the entire contest, the team – and Butler – disintegrated a bit. Part of that, according to head coach John Beilein, was the offensive breakdown of the 1-3-1 zone by the Irish and the relentless defensive pressure of the Golden Eagles. But most of it, Butler says, was the hounding of the crowd.

"I played a lot of road games in high school, so I just figured, hey, another road game," the Newark, N.J. native said. "But I had not seen anything like that. The crowd was on you from the start, like it is here with our fans. And the teams were really good. Really, we didn't play very focused basketball. We have to play hard every possession. That didn't happen."

There was a learning curve, as Beilein noted after West Virginia beat South Florida on Wednesday to advance to 14-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big East, all four wins coming at home with the two losses on the road. All the new starters had problems. Alex Ruoff forced shots and drives. Darris Nichols tried to drive a bit too often. Joe Alexander got into a brief battle of jumpshots. Rob Summers played well, but was saddled inside by pounding Irish frontcourts with Russell Carter and a quick, athletic Marquette squad. Butler said he might have tried too hard on both ends, and that he needed to better play within the system structures.

His line against Notre Dame was arguably the best on the team. He had 10 rebounds and scored nine points on four-of-seven shooting. Against Marquette, however, Butler missed all two of his shots, both from three-point range, and finished with two points and three rebounds with three turnovers. He appeared perplexed when whistled for one of his seven total fouls in both games, and never found the flow at the top of the 1-3-1 zone that has helped West Virginia convert steals into points this season, something that it badly lacked at Marquette despite forcing 17 turnovers.

Butler returned to form against South Florida. He went six of 12 for a dozen points and six boards. But more importantly, he found the fun again. The defense seemed to work, albeit against a lesser foe than Notre Dame or Marquette. His transition to offense was fine, and though his outside shot still did not fall (zero-for-four), they were taken with greater confidence. Part of that was Young, who continues to bring Butler along. The senior sees the frosh as a little brother, someone to mentor in the same manner that Tyrone Sally did to Young. Butler has a tendency to be extremely hard on himself as a player, and that makes Young's advice, encouragement and tutelage even more important.

"There are great teams you play every night in this league," Butler said. "The talent level is better than even what I thought. It's one of the best in the country, and that makes it hard to win anywhere, especially on the road. I learned we just have to keep our confidence."

To do that, Beilein showed the team a tape of it making shots against foes to let the Mountaineers know they could still play. West Virginia, and Butler, made the jump to get back onto the win column. Whether that translates to a road win remains to be seen.

"I didn't make a speech," Beilein said. "I just showed highlights of everyone making shots against Big East teams. They are young and these last two games hit them hard. I wanted to make sure they knew they could do things well."

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