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Win at Pitt could be a big burst

February 9, 2009

At 16-7 overall and 5-5 in Big East Conference play, the West Virginia University basketball teams needs just one thing to bounce itself off the NCAA Tournament bubble - a win tonight at No. 6 Pittsburgh.

The Mountaineers have a solid overall record and sport better-than average RPI rating, but the one thing their tourney resume is still lacking is a signature win.

Not to say that a win against the Panthers would ensure a berth to the big dance, or that a loss would doom its season, but a victory over its biggest rival would do wonders for West Virginia come selection Sunday.

There's no doubt the Mountaineers will carry momentum into the clash after putting together one of their best overall team efforts of the season, a 86-59 drubbing of Providence at the Coliseum on Saturday.

WVU junior forward Da'Sean Butler says the team's performance was needed heading into the Petersen Events Center for the 7 p.m. nationally televised ESPN contest.

"This was a must-win game," said Butler who finished Saturday's contest with 17 points and nine rebounds. "You can't lose this game and then expect to go into Pitt. Because honestly, I'm not going to lie, if we lost this game we probably would have had our heads down, and then coach would have ripped us, and then we would have had our heads down even more. Then we would have went into Pitt and got blown out by 100. This was a game we needed to get everybody's confidence going and to get everybody focused for this game we got coming up."

The Mountaineers strong effort against the Friars wasn't limited to one end of the floor. It's signed, sealed and delivered that WVU is going to bring it on the defensive end on most nights, but when it comes to scoring, the Mountaineers have had their fare share of problems in that department. Hopefully Saturday's 86 point effort, which saw four players reach double figures, will be a confident builder and a momentum switcher on the offensive end of the floor. One player in particular, senior guard Alex Ruoff, broke out of mini shooting slump by draining 6-of-7 shots from three-point range and finishing with a team-high 24 points.

"Alex making six out of seven threes had as much to do with us winning as anything," said Huggins. "Because now all of a sudden you have to chase him and you have to chase Da'Sean, and that opens things up for the other guys."

Huggins was happy with his teams' offensive output, but was quick to point out that the both go hand-in-hand, and if not for WVU's strong defensive play, reaching 86 points would not have been possible.

"Our defense was so much better and that we created offense from our defense," said Huggins. "We got how many runs outs? How many open looks in transition and layups did we get because we created from our defense? That's as good as team effort as we've had in a while. When we score 86 points we're going to win.

"It was our defense. Our defense was just so much better, was so much more aggressive. We got our hands on some balls and got out in transition."

Huggins knows his team is happy and excited about Saturday's win, but hopes WVU will remain focused and continue to be prepared for a battle each and every night in the country's best basketball conference.

"It's just day after day after day in this league and I think that's the hard thing for these guys to get a hold of," said Huggins. "You know you win some games and people will pat them on the tail and now all of a sudden you're staring at playing Pitt. I think we need to embrace it and go up there with the idea that we are going to win.

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ON THE VERGE: One of the Mountaineers' most highly-touted recruits in recent memory, Devin Ebanks, appears to be on the verge of putting his entire game together for the Mountaineers.

Ebanks has had several games where he's put up steady numbers this season, but on Saturday he appeared to have it all going in every department, finishing with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists.

"Devin always contributes, whether it's rebounding the ball or passing the ball," said Huggins. "He hasn't scored I don't think the way he's going to be capable of scoring the ball, but I think again a lot of that's related to his lack of strength. We just gotta get him stronger in the offseason. But he does a lot of things that go unnoticed."

Ebanks has became a fan favorite among Mountaineer fans because of his ability to put the ball in the hole with thunderess dunks. The crowd was treated to three slams on Saturday, but what was possible more important was that Ebanks assisted on three of WVU's first seven field goals.



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