Brandon Knight and Josh Harrellson celebrate a big victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers on the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of the Big Blue Nation, the Kentucky Wildcats have finally defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers and are headed to what is colloquially known as the Sweet Sixteen. Like the defeat of the Duke Blue Devils in 1998, this game avenged a bitter defeat last season when a completely different West Virginia team sent a completely different Kentucky team packing back to Lexington in the Regional Final.
West Virginia, as they always do, played incredibly hard and refused to go quietly. One thing you can say about the Mountaineers is that they never show up on the court without bringing a determined effort to win, which is why they win so many tough games. This was another tough game that they could have won, but just couldn't muster enough shooting to overcome this excellent-shooting Wildcats team. Congratulations to West Virginia on another great season, and considering what they lost from last year, they have earned the respect of every college basketball fan.
For Kentucky, this was a story of two halves. The first half, the Wildcats had a few minutes late in the period where they kind of gave up a little and allowed the Mountaineers unimpeded access to the basket. Combined with a couple of calls that went against UK, the Mountaineers put the 'Cats in a big, eight point hole at the half. Why do I say big? Because you know that when you play West Virginia, you are going to get a low-possession grind-it-out game where big runs are fairly rare.
Regardless, this young Wildcat team came out of the locker room on fire for the second half and dominated the first four minutes of the second period. West Virginia mounted another run to take the lead back, but Kentucky started getting them in foul trouble and getting to the line, and mostly making their free throws. Casey Mitchell came out and made some shots for the 'Eers, but Kentucky continued their defensive improvement and began to turn WVU over. The 'Cats got the lead and made free throws down the stretch, and the rest is history.
- Brandon Knight gets the game ball for a career high 30 points on 9-20 shooting to go along with 4 assists. The only blemish on this game for Brandon was 4 turnovers, many of them due to being out of control.
- Josh Harrellson once again was terrific, and I pondered a long time on having him share the game ball with Brandon. He was certainly a very close second to Knight, and the big boy just keeps getting it done game after game. 70% from the field, 15 points, 8 rebounds (4 offensive). Kentucky would not be where it is without this alien robot who clearly replaced Josh Harrellson sometime in the summer. Wherever the old Josh is, I wish him well, and once again am thankful for the new, improved version.
- Darius Miller was just mired in futility all day. His line was so forgettable as to be worthy of his old nickname (which will not be uttered here), but he did make one huge shot late in the game that really propelled Kentucky to victory.
Doron Lamb was in foul trouble and had very little impact on the game outside of a 2nd half 3-pointer.
- DeAndre Liggins was much better than his line, and despite having only 3 points, he had 9 rebounds and was a defensive stopper for Joe Mazzulla in the second half. Liggins was responsible for creating several turnovers by the 'Eers, and was at his disruptive best in the second half.
- Eloy Vargas once again gave a few minutes, but they weren't nearly of as high a quality as other recent efforts.
- Terrence Jones played better, but still isn't the Terrence Jones of just a few games ago. Still, he made most of his free throws and had a couple of big blocks. Overall, he had a pretty good game.
- Jon Hood played, but had no discernible impact on the game other than to get pushed at the end of the second half only to have the official ignore the obvious foul and call a cheap one on DeAndre Liggins a half-second later.
This game was very tough for Kentucky in the first half, but they really played much better in the second and finished the game off in style. I think we are all very pleased to have the Wildcats arrive at what most of us figured would be their post season destination. No matter who they face next week, this season, given the ineligibility of Enes Kanter, cannot be seen as anything but a success. Kentucky is definitely playing on house money now, and if they will come out and leave it all on the floor, the ceiling for this bunch is no lower than the Final Four.