INDIANAPOLIS - Some losses are worse than others. It was bad enough that West Virginia was taken apart defensively by Duke in the NCAA semifinals last night at Lucas Oil Stadium, but it cut the heart out of the Mountaineers when senior Da'Sean Butler's stellar career ended with him being helped off the court in the second half with what appeared to be a serious left knee injury.
Duke held a 15-point lead on its way to a 78-57 win when Butler ran into some big Blue Devils bodies while trying to drive to the basket and crashed to the floor in a heap. Rolling over in pain and crying out, the MVP of the Big East Tournament grabbed his left knee and let his tears flow.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins screamed at the referees in frustration for not calling a foul, saying, "There's an All-American lying on the floor!'' Huggins then got down on the floor and wrapped his arms around Butler's head while trying to console him.
It was a poignant picture that captured the spirit of the Mountaineers as they made their run to the Big East title and beyond to the Final Four.
"I knew it was bad because Da'Sean is a really tough guy,'' Huggins said. "He's a really good player and a better person. When I went out there, it was more like he felt he let his team down than it was about the injury. That's Da'Sean. He's got a great heart.''
Huggins' reaction also was evidence of the frustration felt by the Mountaineers (31-7) as their proud defense was shredded by the Blue Devils, who shot 52.7 percent from the field and 52.0 percent from three-point range, making 13 of 25 from beyond the arc. The big three for Duke (34-5) all came through as Jon Scheyer had 23 points (5-for-9 from three-point range), Kyle Singler added 21 (3-for-5 on threes) and Nolan Smith totaled 19 (4-for-9 on threes).
"All three worked so well together,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "To score that many points against West Virginia is a lot.''
West Virginia shot just 41.3 percent, led by Wellington Smith's 12 points and Devin Ebanks' 11. Butler scored 10 and had a tough shooting night, going 2-for-8 from the field.
If the Blue Devils play the same way Monday night, another Butler could be in tears. The final will be a David-Goliath matchup, though not quite in the traditional sense. After all, Duke is a relatively small private college, but the Blue Devils and Krzyzewski, who will be going for their fourth national title, are giants in college basketball. Their front line, anchored by 7-1 Brian Zoubek, figures to pose the same problems for Butler that it did for West Virginia.
In the second half, the closest West Virginia got was five points when Butler hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 43-38. Duke responded with a 20-10 run for a 63-48 lead. Moments after Scheyer's three-pointer capped that run, Butler's college career ended in agony.
Now Duke will be cast as the villain Monday night as it tries to prevent Butler from turning this into a modern version of the movie "Hoosiers.'' Krzyzewski paid tribute to the Bulldogs, saying, "They're one of the best teams in the country. 'Cinderella' would be somebody that had eight or nine losses and pulled some upsets. They've won 25 in a row and beaten Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State.
"Because Butler hasn't been to the Final Four, it creates that 'Cinderella' thing. They've earned it. They've probably had the toughest road.''
And Duke won't make it any easier.