PoG: WVU - Louisville

With around nine minutes to go, it didn't look like many (if any) players would be worthy of our top honors. But once the Mountaineers completed their comeback from an 11-point deficit in the final seven minutes, there were several candidates. But one familiar forward rose to the top with his late-game heroics.

PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Da'Sean Butler.

Clutch. With a capital "C."

That's what the forward from Newark, N.J., has been at almost every opportunity for the Mountaineers this season.

His buzzer-beater to knock off Marquette stands out most prominently (and his miss at the horn that would have completed an improbable comeback against Notre Dame was the lone exception), but the shot he made with 16.3 seconds left Saturday was almost as significant.

It's a play West Virginia fans have become accustomed to seeing -- either Butler or Kevin Jones (more on him later) catches an inbounds pass from the under the opponent's basket and quickly turns to put up a jump shot from the baseline.

Early in the season, it was almost always money in the bank. But with both Butler and Jones struggling to find their jump-shooting touch in recent weeks, it's been less reliable.

Fortunately for head coach Bob Huggins, Butler has shown that he is coming out of that mid-season swoon. Almost predictably, that play worked its magic once more, giving WVU the lead in the final seconds.

But those were just two of the 27 points the senior scored (a season-high) against Louisville. He was effective from long-range (hitting four of his nine 3-point field goal attempts). He got it done inside the arc (making five of 10 from there). He made his free throws (5-of-7).

In short, it's the kind of performance West Virginia needs from its best player to win most of its games.

"Da's been great. He's been unbelievable," Huggins said.

"There's nobody that wants to win more than Da' does. Nobody works harder at it than Da'Sean does. "People say, ‘You don't get mad at Da'Sean.' Why would I get mad at Da'? He's the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. He knows everything that's supposed to go on. He studies it. He's very committed to being a good player."

NET BURNERS:

  • Kevin Jones.

    Jones' struggles have been slightly less publicized than those of Butler, but they have been no less significant to WVU. As a result, the play of the sophomore forward down the stretch had to have heartened Huggins and Mountaineer fans everywhere.

    The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native scored eight straight points to pull his team back into a tie with the Cardinals at 70 with 2:00 remaining. He did it all in that stretch, hitting a 3-pointer, making a pair of free throws and converting an old-fashioned three-point play.



    Kevin Jones

    Those were eight of Jones' 16 points -- which came despite the fact that he missed nine minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. He added five rebounds.

    Jones' mid-range jumper had become something WVU fans had just taken for granted -- it was so consistent that it was almost second-nature to count two points every time he attempted one.

    But that hadn't held true as of late, and facing bigger and tougher Big East opponents, his rebounding numbers had gone down (thus limiting the chances he has had to score on put-backs, a staple of his game).

    The fact that at least the jumpers were beginning to fall again was a positive sign for West Virginia as it begins the stretch run of the regular season.

  • Switching to the 1-3-1 zone defense.

    Dribble penetration has consistently killed WVU this year. But for some reason, Huggins has continued to have his team play man-to-man defense for most of the season.

    That problem had reared its ugly head again on Saturday. Edgar Sosa and Preston Knowles were knifing their way through the middle of the lane like a hot knife through butter.

    That had forced extra defenders to collapse on them, allowing free looks from outside for Reginald Delk and Peyton Siva and making interior passes to a dominant Samardo Samuels even more possible.

    But, finally, when all looked lost around the 7:00 mark of the second half, Huggins went to his team's ace in the hole -- a 1-3-1 zone defense.

    The head coach said afterwards that it wasn't exactly the same approach employed by former Mountaineer head man John Beilein and others -- that the way he had used Devin Ebanks at the top of the zone had allowed the defense to drop back into a sort of 2-3 zone look at times.

    Whatever the defense was doing, it worked. Louisville managed only four points after the switch. Two of those came on a pair of Jerry Smith free throws that resulted from a frustration foul committed by Jones about 85 feet from the basket after he missed a 3-pointer.

    That was the difference in the game. It gave the Mountaineers' struggling offense a chance to get some momentum.

    Credit Huggins for breaking from his typical routine and instead just doing what worked. Credit the players for being able to execute a defense they had rarely played this season.

  • Truck Bryant.

    While the point guard had been WVU's most consistent perimeter shooting threat in recent weeks, that wasn't why he made our list on Saturday.

    Instead, the sophomore did all of the things a point guard should do -- and he did them against the infamous pressure applied by Rick Pitino's teams.

    Bryant had five assists against only one turnover against that Cardinal pressure. He struggled with his shot -- missing all of his six field goal attempts (which all came from 3-point range).

    But, playing smart, he attacked the rim instead. As a result, he still scored eight points -- making all of his free throw attempts.

    He even contributed on the defensive end, grabbing five steals and corralling a pair of rebounds.

    While the box score might not be the most impressive one put up by Bryant this season, his performance Saturday showed just how far he has come this season.


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