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Season looking good after a resume-padding victory

MORGANTOWN - Perhaps you're down on your luck this Sunday morning. Perhaps you've taken a long shot and it turned into an air ball.

Here's a suggestion: check out West Virginia's athletic program to understand how fortunes can change in a blink - for the better.

Back in early November, WVU's football team lost to Louisville, dropping it to .500 in the lowly Big East. A few days ago, it put up the highest point total in college bowl history and shipped the Orange Bowl trophy here.

Around the time of the football loss to the U of L, the Mountaineer basketball team was falling to Division II Northern Kentucky in an exhibition game at the Coliseum. On Saturday, West Virginia moved to 12-4 overall, 3-1 in Big East play, with an impressive 74-62 victory over No. 9 Georgetown before 10,526 - in the same building as the NKU loss.

And - talk about changing times - the fans clapped politely, turned and went home. There was a time not so very long ago when defeating a Top 10 team would have resulted in a storming of the Coliseum court and dancing in the streets.

No more. The expectations are simply high under coach Bob Huggins. And he rarely disappoints.

The Mountaineers, drenched in youth, padded their resume nicely with a win over the Hoyas. WVU entered the game ranked No. 22 and 24 in a couple of faux Rating Percentage Indexes. Georgetown entered No. 7 and 6.

This young Mountaineer team is now squarely in line to make the NCAA tournament a little past the halfway point in the season, with 15 games remaining. Granted the team is heading into the teeth of Big East play, but give Huggins and the players credit for the performance - considering the youth - so far. Kind of amazing, really.

"I know we're very young, but Coach really emphasizes defense," said 6-foot-8 forward Dominique Rutledge. "Defense wins games; defense wins championships."

Here's the deal, though: While many point to WVU's defense, it's offense that's been keeping the Mountaineers afloat. West Virginia entered Saturday's game No. 4 in scoring offense among the 16 Big East teams with a 76.1 average. It is now at 76 even.

WVU's Kevin Jones was the Big East's No. 1 scorer, averaging 19.6 points. He had 22 against the Hoyas and is now at 19.8. Truck Bryant was No. 5 within the league, averaging 18 points. After scoring 25 on Saturday, he's at 18.4.

There are, of course, holes, such as the team's free throw shooting. WVU entered the game 15th, hitting just 63.6 percent, better only than Cincinnati. The Mountaineers, however, hit 22-of-31 on Saturday (71 percent) to reach 64.2 for the season.

Defensively, WVU was No. 12 among the Big East schools in scoring defense, allowing an average of 66.4 points. (It's now 66.1.) It was No. 14 in field goal percentage defense (43.5 percent). That is now 43.3.

A man who could help spark WVU defensively did so on Saturday. And Jones pointed to him in post-game interviews, when asked the difference between losses to ranked teams Baylor and Mississippi State and this win over Georgetown.

"Just Dom [Rutledge] coming in and giving us that energy," Jones said. "Kevin Noreen and those guys who normally don't make that much of a contribution. We need those guys. We really need those guys more and more going into the Big East."

The stat sheet didn't show much for Rutledge, WVU's 6-foot-8, 240-pound junior. Hasn't all year. In 11 games before Saturday, he averaged one point and one rebound and 3.3 minutes of action. On Saturday, he had a bucket, made 1-of-4 free throws, had a couple of rebounds, an assist, turnover and steal.

He did more nice things, though. He drew an offensive foul on Georgetown starting guard Jason Clark. His steal led to a fast break and two Bryant free throws. Then he fouled out starting Hoya center Henry Sims with 3:35 left in the game.

"He could help this team a lot," Jones said of Rutledge. "He's very athletic. He can block shots. He can get rebounds. He can score inside. It's just a matter of him getting comfortable. He's really just started playing."

"This is hard for Dom because Dom didn't play in high school," Huggins said. "He took the scenic route in junior college from Kansas to Miami to West Texas, so he doesn't have the background that some of our other guys have.

"He gives us a shot of athleticism. He was really into playing today. We just need to get him into practicing like he was into playing today. Then we might have something."

"K.J. and Truck get a lot of attention," Rutledge said. "Coming off the bench, nobody is really expecting me to do as well as I do sometimes. A lot of it goes to these guys. I just try to listen to my coaches, do what I'm told and things work out."

Things are certainly working out for the Mountaineer team. And, yes, beating a No. 9 Georgetown team is still a thrill for WVU - at least among the players.

"It still feels special, because of this team and everything we've been through so far this year," Jones said. "Plus, we had that [67-48] loss at Seton Hall. Bouncing back from that for two straight wins, it definitely means a lot to us. We just celebrated. Now, it's get back to work tomorrow."

Time to try and pad that resume again.

"We think about it," Jones admitted. "We take it one step at a time, though. We look at our opponent and what we need to do to get the RPI where it needs to be. This definitely was a great resume-builder for March. Like I said, we enjoy today, but we have another one to get Monday at UConn."

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle. 


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