PoG: WVU - Villanova

PHILADELPHIA -- There's little doubting that talent, both older and younger, dots the roster at almost every spot for West Virginia. But a pair of cagey veterans led the way at the Wachovia Center on Saturday, helping their team secure a comeback win that could serve as a big-time confidence builder heading into the postseason.

PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Da'Sean Butler.

Perception was that Butler was struggling with a mental block that kept him from being able to shoot free throws consistently.

If that's the case, perhaps a bit of extra work in practice was all it took for the team's senior leader to get his stroke -- and his confidence -- back.

Butler hit 13 of his 14 free throws on Saturday, while most of his teammates were struggling to hit the proverbial broad side of a barn from the charity stripe (the rest of the roster combined to go only five-of-14 from the line).

But it wasn't just those big shots at the free throw line (like the four he made after Jay Wright picked up a technical foul, or the two-of-two trips both late in regulation and late in overtime that gave his team 3-point leads) that made it another spectacular day for the forward.

He grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, had two nifty assists (including a sweet feed to Kevin Jones for a left-handed lay-in that gave West Virginia the lead with 1:23 to go in overtime), and just made plays when they needed made.

Perhaps no play showed Butler's combination of basketball smarts and pure talent better than his game-winner with 5.8 seconds left.

Told by head coach Bob Huggins to drive, draw the defense and kick to Jonnie West for a jumper, Butler did just that -- until he noticed VU senior Scottie Reynolds staying at home on West on the perimeter.

Already committed to the play after jumping in the air, Butler instead adjusted, faced the basket, and pushed a shot towards the goal that banked off the backboard and fell through.

It was another big-time play to add to the growing list of such moments for West Virginia's third-leading scorer of all time.

If he can get his jump shot back to form as postseason play begins (he was only 3-of-10 from the field Saturday), it could go a long way towards helping the Mountaineers stay alive deep into the NCAA Tournament.

NET BURNERS:

  • Wellington Smith.

    Smith continues to play his best (and most consistent) basketball of his WVU career as it begins to wind down, in what has to be a boon to Huggins.

    The senior from Summit, N.J., had 15 points and three blocked shots. He recovered from a miserable first half to record some of the most meaningful buckets of the game for the Mountaineers.

    After the visitors had rallied to tie the game in the first eight minutes of the second half, momentum seemed to be creeping back in Villanova's direction when its lead grew back to five points just after Huggins picked up a technical foul for arguing with the referees.



    Wellington Smith
    But Smith made sure that West Virginia would not fall behind any further, scoring his team's next eight points -- including back-to-back 3-pointers to turn that five-point deficit into a one-point lead -- to set up a wild finish in regulation.

    The first of those long-range shots caused Huggins to call John Flowers back to the bench, as the reserve forward was at the scorer's table preparing to check in for Smith.

    The second of those shots had Huggins likening his team to geese, who apparently are apt to forget their troubles (returning to the same spot day after day, even if they are shot at or otherwise endangered).

    But it was the third -- and closest -- of Smith's consecutive field goals that was perhaps the most impressive. He grabbed the ball in the low post, tucked it in under his body and pump faked twice.

    Those fakes caused a pair of Villanova defenders to fly over his head, clearing the way for an easy lay-in.

    It's that kind of patience that comes only with maturity, with the ability to not let the moment ever to be too big, with the ability to always play within yourself.

    Smith is showing those characteristics in spades lately. It's little coincidence that West Virginia has shown the capability to play its best basketball as a season at the same time.

  • Team defense.

    Scottie Reynolds scored 17 points for the Wildcats on Saturday.

    But sometimes, the box scores just don't tell the whole story. This was one of those occasions.

    Reynolds hit only 31.2 percent of his field goals against WVU. He converted only one of his nine 3-point attempts. And the senior struggled to put his teammates in position to make plays, committing three turnovers to go with his three assists.

    That was the result of a defensive effort from the Mountaineers that was an all-around success.

    While his team was down by 13 points at halftime, Huggins said he was encouraged that his players had held Villanova to only 29 points.

    If that could continue into the second half, he hypothesized, the offense would come around in time to make it a competitive game.

    He was right. Within eight minutes, that entire deficit had been erased, as VU scored only five points in that span.

    All told, the hosts had almost as many turnovers (16) as they had made field goals (18). Defense kept West Virginia from being completely blown out early, and it made the comeback possible late.

    That's the trademark of a Huggins coached team. It's a reason why fans and others would be wise to never completely count the Mountaineers out of a game, no matter how dire the circumstances.

  • Devin Ebanks.

    One of the key components of that defense was Huggins' star sophomore forward. And as the calendar has flipped to March, once again, Ebanks is playing his best basketball of the season.

    He was in double figures scoring (with 12 points Saturday) for the ninth straight game. He didn't have an explosive night on the glass, but still had a more than respectable seven boards.

    And, of course, he played smothering defense. It was Ebanks that made life difficult for Reynolds time and time again on Saturday, using his feet to keep in front of supposedly quicker guards and using his natural length to make it tough for opponents to make shots over him.

    That has been the biggest evolution in the sophomore's game this season. That a 6-foot-9 forward is his team's best on-ball defender at this point is a testament to how much hard work and proper technique can overcome even the most daunting physical disadvantages.

    While his play was mystifying early in the season, Ebanks has become the model of consistency down the stretch.

    With the Big East Tournament coming up (not far from his home town of Long Island City, N.Y.) there is little doubt that perhaps the most physically gifted Mountaineer player will have no shortage of motivation to bring his best every single night.


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