Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Butler's hand is fine - so are the Mountaineers

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Da'Sean Butler says his right hand is fine. If that's the case, so too are the West Virginia Mountaineers' hopes in preparing to face Kentucky in the East Regional finals of the NCAA tournament.

The second-seeded Mountaineers survived a momentary scare when Butler fell hard to the court and jammed his right hand midway through the second half of a 69-56 win over Washington on Thursday.

After spending a few minutes writhing in pain, Butler got up and continued playing in helping West Virginia (30-6) set a school record for victories — surpassing the 29-5 mark set by the Jerry West-led team that lost in the 1959 NCAA tournament final.

"I've played with worse," Butler said, pointing to his hand that was heavily wrapped in ice.

The senior guard's presence has been a key all season. Butler's the team's leading scorer this year and has hit game-winning shots six times already, including a running jumper with 4 seconds left in a 60-58 win over Georgetown in the Big East championship game.

And the Mountaineers, who face Big Blue on Saturday, can't afford losing anyone else to injury after facing the Huskies without point guard Darryl Bryant, who broke a bone in his right foot during practice Tuesday.

"That was a very big sense of relief," said forward Kevin Jones, referring to watching Butler get up. "Something would really have to be wrong if he didn't get up. Luckily, it wasn't that. He got up and showed how tough he was."

Butler scored 14 points, added seven rebounds and — shortly after he was hurt — made a key steal that helped cap a 20-6 run that provided the Mountaineers a 56-43 lead with 8:11 left. Jones scored 18 points and added eight rebounds.

Justin Holiday scored 14 and added eight rebounds for the Huskies (26-10), who were at a disadvantage after leading scorer Quincy Pondexter picked up his third foul with 4:27 left in the first half. Point guard Isaiah Thomas scored 13 before fouling out with 2:41 left.

The Huskies had a nine-game win streak snapped. The Pac-10 tournament champions were trying to become only the fourth school seeded 11th or lower to reach the round of eight.

"It definitely hurts. We made a great run down the last stretch of the season," Pondexter said. "It hurts right now. There's nothing much to say about it."

The Huskies were the latest to discover how stifling the Mountaineers' defense can be. Though West Virginia struggled on offense minus Bryant's settling presence, the defense was dominating in holding its sixth straight opponent from scoring 60 points.

The Huskies shot 22 of 56 from the field and outrebounded 49-29.

"It felt like it was eight against five out there," Washington forward Darnell Gant said.

West Virginia won its ninth straight game, improved to 11-0 on a neutral court this season and advanced to the regional finals for the second time since 2005.

The Mountaineers were actually left disappointed by their sloppy play in committing 23 turnovers nearly double the 11.6 they averaged all season.

"Yeah, it was a struggle, I'm not going to lie to you," Butler said. "We can play a lot better. Hopefully, everybody sees how bad we played today. We still won the game pretty convincingly, so it looks pretty bright."

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was so unhappy with his team's performance that at the half he challenged his players by raising the possibility of the Mountaineers losing.

"That's what I told them at halftime, I said, 'You know, maybe we're going to lose,'" Huggins said. "But I said, 'If we do lose, let's lose our way. Let's lose doing what we do.'"

The Mountaineers responded by quickly overcoming a 29-27 deficit. They never trailed after Jones hit a 3-pointer that put them up 39-37 with 14:14 left.

Huggins had no interest in entertaining questions about how the Volunteers are now the last Big East team left in the NCAA tournament after No. 1 seed Syracuse lost to Butler on Thursday.

"We want to be the last ones standing, period," Huggins said emphatically. For Huggins, this marks the fourth time he's coached a team to the final eight, and first in four seasons at his alma mater.

And he knows how special this is back home.

"You don't understand unless you've ever been to West Virginia how much it means to the people," Huggins said. "Everybody in West Virginia is listening to the game or watching the game. That's how much it means to our state."

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