A Forgettable One To Remember

NEW YORK -- Thursday night's Big East quarterfinal win over Cincinnati was one to remember for one of WVU's seniors. But for the other, the game was a struggle -- one that left him hungry to redeem himself in tonight's semifinal against Notre Dame.

Wellington Smith has gotten used to his fellow senior forward, Da'Sean Butler, stealing all of the headlines.

That didn't change on Thursday, when Butler led seemingly every sports highlight package in America with his game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat UC 54-51.

That didn't bother Smith. But his own performance, in which he struggled to contribute in most facets of the game, did.

"It felt like the basket moved a little bit," joked the Summit, N.J., native after the game. "We just haven't shot around. I like to shoot around before and after practice at least every day. I can't do that [here]."

It showed, as Smith (who has been playing the best offensive basketball of his West Virginia career as of late) only attempted four shots from the field. Perhaps the team's most reliable 3-point shooter in recent weeks, the forward missed both of his long-range attempts Thursday.

But that's not something that makes the senior doubt his ability to make shots now -- a skill he has worked long and hard on before and after Mountaineer practices.

"You've just got to rely on your work ethic, what you've put in before you came on the trip," Smith said. "That's what I have to rely on. It's something I'm looking forward to regaining [Friday night], and I feel like I can."

A bit of extra offense could go a long way towards helping WVU try to take down No. 7 seed Notre Dame -- a team that plays a considerably different style from the one that beat the Mountaineers 70-68 in South Bend on Jan. 9.

After being on the wrong side of many NCAA Tournament bubble projections when star forward Luke Harangody was sidelined with a bone bruise on his knee, the Irish changed styles considerably.

Gone was the run-and-gun offense that ran through Harangody and relied almost solely on outside shots to compliment the forward's inside game. Instead, head coach Mike Brey went to a slow-down approach, which forces teams to defend for almost all of the 35 second shot clock.

It's worked, as Notre Dame has won six in a row and is solidly among the field of 65 teams, according to most projections. Even with Harangody back in the fold, the stylistic change has stuck, as the forward is coming off the bench and playing limited minutes.

"They lull you to sleep a bit with how they do it," said Smith of the new style of tonight's opponent. "All you can do is try to play defense and get up in them like we normally do, how Huggs' defense is."

"We'll try to create turnovers and be smart about how we do everything. They're a smart team, a very intelligent team, with a lot of people stepping up for them."

Smith struggled with foul trouble against Cincinnati's Yancy Gates. Harangody presents a different challenge from Gates, as the Irish star is just as apt to play from the perimeter as he is to post up down low.

The senior said he hoped to be able to play more than the 26 minutes he managed against the Bearcats by playing better defense. The opportunity to limit one of the better players in the country gives Smith a quick shot at redemption from Thursday night's performance.

"For all of us that may not have played well, it means another game to play well in front of friends and family," he said. "It means another time to play well for your state and for the jersey that you wear. It means a lot to us."

It also means a chance to exact a measure of revenge for one of West Virginia's six losses on the season. In the earlier meeting, the Mountaineers fell behind by 20 points early and rallied throughout the second half.

That comeback fell just short, as Butler (the man quickly developing a reputation as one of the most clutch players in all of college basketball) missed a potential game-winner at the buzzer.

"We shouldn't have lost that game in the first place," Smith said.

"We didn't shoot well up there, to be honest. We need rest [through the day Friday] and to play great defense. Even though there's a revenge factor to it, it shouldn't really matter because of the type of team we are."

It's games like the earlier loss to Notre Dame that conditioned the Mountaineers to dramatic finishes like the one on Thursday night. While that could be viewed as a bad thing, as the team has struggled to put away almost every opponent it has faced, it also has developed a belief that it will find a way to win in crunch time.

That's a trait that could come in handy throughout the rest of the Big East tournament and heading into the NCAAs next week.

"We've been in so many [close games]," Smith said. "It's our fault we let people back in the game. But we have a will to win, a swagger about us to win the game. I don't know what it is, but we pull it out every time."

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