Looking For Redemption

In what will be the last game against his team's biggest arch-nemesis (barring another meeting in the Big East or NCAA Tournaments), WVU's star senior forward hopes to atone for what was a miserable performance at the Petersen Events Center a year ago.

Da'Sean Butler hasn't had many bad games in his Mountaineer career, but his team's 70-59 loss to then-No. 4 Pittsburgh last season certainly qualified.

The Newark, N.J., native was only 2-of-12 from the field for four points. That was a full 14 below his season average at the time. Adding insult to injury, he watched the finish from the sidelines after fouling out.

He wasn't the only West Virginia player who struggled to take care of business against the Panthers last year.

Then-senior Alex Ruoff also battled foul trouble almost all game long, but still managed 17 points before picking up his fifth personal. Point guard Truck Bryant was limited to three-of-10 shooting from the field and also had to be careful in playing defense in the second half, finishing with four fouls.

Typically anything but shy, Butler rarely turns down a media request. But that night, dejected, he didn't come out of the locker room to speak with reporters.

"That night's not fun, but that's what it's for -- to get it all out of your system, do other things to not think about it," Butler said, looking back. "Watch funny movies, laugh, not think about it and come back to the gym and get ready for practice. You just work on getting better. It's a new day, and you can't dwell on certain things."

That's an approach that the Panthers may have to take to tonight's rematch with WVU at the Petersen Events Center. Just nine days ago, Pittsburgh faltered down the stretch and dropped a 70-51 decision at the Coliseum.

That was game was characterized by poor performances from Pitt stars Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. The former scored 11 points, but hit on only two of his 13 field goal attempts. The latter was held scoreless.

Those struggles helped explain why the final score was so lopsided -- even after the teams were separated by a mere two points at 43-41 with 12:54 to go.

"The second half, we just came out and responded," Butler said. "They challenged us when we went back out there, and we came back and responded to them beating us to every offensive rebound and loose ball, getting easy lay-ups and shots."

"We just came out and guarded, rebounded, and executed on offense. I'd say it's good that we were challenged. Coach (Bob Huggins) challenged us. Pitt's team challenged us. We just came out and took care of business."

Thus, the Mountaineers have a rare chance to earn a season sweep of Pittsburgh. It won't be easy to do so, as a win by WVU would make it only the third program to ever score multiple wins over the Panthers at the Petersen Events Center.

Part of the home-court advantage enjoyed by Pitt is its Oakland Zoo student section. With fan behavior making headlines after West Virginia's win over its rival at the Coliseum, some have wondered what the Zoo might have in store for the visitors tonight.

Butler didn't seem worried.

"It's always a wild environment there. Those fans are ruthless," he said. "They're pretty funny though. It's always fun to go into other peoples' gyms and hear the jokes they say and stuff, see how creative they are. We judge who was the best throughout the year, what made everybody laugh."

Among the wise-cracks from the Zoo earning high marks from Butler in years past?

Chants of "ostrich" in the direction of former WVU center Jamie Smalligan, known for his baldish head and, as Butler but it, "how weird he runs." Last season, then-forward Kevin Jones was likened to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

"They're really original," Butler said. "They have some funny stuff. I usually look forward to going there, because I know how wild their crowd is."

But if the forward is laughing after tonight's game, he hopes it will be because his Mountaineer team earned a rare victory in Pittsburgh. Butler struggled to explain why the Petersen Center is historically such a tough place for visitors to play.

"I don't know, honestly," he said. "I can't even tell you. You get there and it seems like a regular court. Then the game starts, and it's not."

"People tend to miss shots -- especially me. The team has a habit of sometimes going in there and not playing to our potential. But I think we're a tougher team this year and can go in there and take care of business."

And after dealing with being swept by Pitt his freshman year and losing to the Panthers on a Ronald Ramon buzzer-beating 3-pointer his sophomore year, the chance to flip the script and end a regular season 2-0 against WVU's biggest rival would be especially satisfying to the senior.

"It would be cool to get these two wins," Butler said. "It would mean a lot."

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