PoG: WVU - Notre Dame

NEW YORK -- Almost all of West Virginia's offense came from its star senior forward, who finds himself on the precipice of history heading into Saturday night's Big East Conference championship game at Madison Square Garden.

PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Da'Sean Butler.

Surprise, surprise.

For much of the game, Butler was the Mountaineers' offense. He was option A, B and C while other players struggled with their shooting stroke.

That wasn't a problem. He had 21 of his team's first 39 points and ended the game with 24 on an efficient nine-of-15 shooting from the field.

While the Newark, N.J., native stole the show on one of sports' biggest stages with his scoring output, it was his all-around performance that allowed West Virginia to advance to its second-ever Big East championship game.

The forward had seven rebounds (just one shy of the game-high totaled by Wellington Smith). He added a team-high three assists while continuing to take care of the ball (with only one turnover).

But let's not kid ourselves. The reason the forward tops our list of honorees from Friday night's win is because he looked like he was ready to step into the locker room and slip on a New York Knicks jersey at any moment.

His offensive game is a force to be reckoned with at this point.

After going through a spell in early February when he seemed to lack confidence in his shot, he has emerged in the same way Joe Alexander did late in his final season at WVU.

Alexander seemed to flip a switch in his head around this same time in his junior year. Suddenly, no shot was too tough to make, no defender was too daunting to beat. You can see the same traits, the same desire to take over games, in Butler's eyes right now.

If he can get a bit more scoring help from his teammates, who knows what might be possible for the Mountaineers in the NCAA Tournament?

NET BURNERS:

  • Joe Mazzulla.

    Truck Bryant was having a poor outing, to say the least. The starting point guard later said he felt like he wasn't helping his team in any way.

    Enter Mazzulla. By game's end, he had a season-high eight points on four-of-six shooting from the field.

    But it wasn't just the points he put on the board that made a difference. Rather, it was the way he scored them.

    On a team that has lacked the ability to dribble penetrate against half-court defenses almost all season, Mazzulla suddenly showed that sort of much-valued skill set at a time it was needed most.



    Joe Mazzulla
    He seemed to catch defenders off guard with quick flashes to the goal, particularly in the first half. The junior scored on back-to-back possessions with drives and lay-ins just after Notre Dame had cut the Mountaineers' lead to two points on a Ben Hansbrough trifecta.

    He also converted in a pivotal situation late in the game.

    After curling hard to the goal, Mazzulla received a nice pass from Butler, who had (not surprisingly) drawn multiple defenders. He calmly laid the ball up and in through traffic, stopping the bleeding of what had been an 11-2 Irish run to draw within 48-47 with under 3:00 remaining.

    Mazzulla also played his usual tough defense -- a trait he will need to bring again tomorrow, as he will be tasked with trying to slow down Georgetown guard Chris Wright, who has been playing perhaps his best basketball of the season at the Garden.

  • An evolved offense.

    In their 70-68 loss at Notre Dame earlier this season, the Mountaineers jacked up an eye-popping 37 attempts from long range.

    That was partially a by-product of the massive early deficit they faced. But it also was a sign that Bob Huggins' cut-and-fill motion offense wasn't doing much cutting and filling. Instead, many players were content to sit on the perimeter, pass the ball to other players sitting on the perimeter and eventually take a shot from the perimeter.

    When WVU wasn't hitting those shots consistently, the results were predictably disastrous.

    Contrast that with the kind of offensive game played by Huggins and company on Friday night. West Virginia shot just over half of the 3-pointers it attempted in South Bend, taking 19 shots from distance.

    It didn't help that Butler was the only player to make one from beyond the arc. He hit three of his seven long-range attempts, while the rest of the roster combined to miss all 12 of its 3-point tries.

    But that deficiency didn't kill the Mountaineers' hopes. The squad was 18-of-24 from inside the arc -- a staggering 75 percent success rate.

    They scored on jump shots. They scored on dribble drives. They scored in almost every conceivable manner. As a result, they won the game.

    It's that substantial change in the offensive attack that is allowing West Virginia to play its best basketball of the season when it matters most.

  • Limiting Harangody.

    Sure, Luke Harangody is a smaller part of what Notre Dame does offensively now. Sure, he's playing fewer minutes (26 off the bench on Friday night). But the other players around him are only as good as he allows them to be.

    When the forward can't draw defenders, it doesn't allow for the team's outside shooters to get as open. It doesn't allow for easy passes in the post to cutting teammates.

    And so, while he struggled with his offensive game (scoring only three points), Wellington Smith's effort on the Irish's All-American was of monumental importance.

    Harangody had 10 points, but five of those came from the foul line (including three on an absolutely horrendous foul called against Butler, who apparently exhaled too sharply in Harangody's direction while he was attempting a 3-pointer).

    The forward hit only two of his six attempts from the field, and one of those was on a trifecta. He simply wasn't effective enough on a consistent basis in the post to allow Notre Dame's offense to ever get totally in sync.

    Credit Smith for the initial work -- and the rest of the Mountaineers for recognizing when the appropriate time was to bring help.


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