INDIANAPOLIS - Da'Sean Butler has done a lot of smiling and dancing following wins this month, but there was a time when he was very different after victories.
"Our first exhibition game last year he scores 36 or 38 points - something like that - and he was apologizing to everyone afterward," Coach Bob Huggins said. "He was sorry he took so many shots, sorry he didn't get his teammates involved. I said, 'You better get used to the idea of being a ball hog.'"
As much as is made of Duke's scoring trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, no one left in the Final Four is as tied to a team's success as is Butler.
He enters tomorrow's national semifinal against the Blue Devils leading the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game. Kevin Jones averages 13.7 and Devin Ebanks 12.0, but Butler has taken 119 more shots than Jones and 188 more than Ebanks. Jones and Wellington Smith have made a combined 77 3-pointers. Butler has 70. Jones and Ebanks have 122 assists. Butler has 117.
And when a team plays as deliberate on offense and finds itself in so many close games as do the Mountaineers, it helps to have a player who's made six game-winning shots, including three buzzer-beaters, this season.
"My teammates and my coach put me in the right spots and set me up for good shots," Butler said. "The confidence my teammates have in me and the confidence my coach has in me makes me even more confident. When I get the ball, I think it's going in."
It's been three weeks since Butler won a game in the final seconds, which, by his clock, means he's overdue. While the heroics have stopped, the questions have not.
Why, Huggins was asked, is Butler his team's money player?
"Because he makes them," Huggins said. "We're going to throw him the ball."
Butler's perspective is different and a little more grounded. He'd rather shoot at the end of a game than the end of a shot clock. Not because he lives for that dramatic moment, but because that one possession against the shot clock can loom large later.
"The shot clock is a little more difficult," he said. "At the end of the game, we either win or lose. The shot clock, depending on the situation in the game, if you take the wrong shot or the bad shot or you don't make it, it may lead to something else."
WVU realized long ago it needed to bank on Butler and the once shamefully unselfish Butler accepted it. When it comes to winning or losing with one possession, he admits his team, "has no other choice."
"It's past that point now," he said. "This is the end of the season. There's no use in being afraid to take the last shot. It's either do or die now. You go out there and make it and you win. You miss, depending on the score and situation, you lose or go to overtime. You can't put too much more pressure on it other than what there already is or else you're shooting with a thousand pounds on you."