West Virginia pounded by Kentucky 78-39 in Sweet 16
CLEVELAND (AP) — Bob Huggins applauded Daxter Miles Jr.’s confidence. It’s one of the things the West Virginia coach values most in his players. So Huggins had no problem when the freshman guard predicted the Mountaineers would finally knock the 0 in unbeaten Kentucky’s loss column in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.
“I’m happy he wasn’t hiding under a chair somewhere,” Huggins said.
Too bad. That might have been one of the few safe places to hide.
Outmanned, outmaneuvered and outmatched, West Virginia put up little resistance in a 78-39 loss that might not even have been that close. It was an emphatic end to a promising season for the Mountaineers (25-10).
And whatever Miles said or didn’t say had little effect on an outcome that seemed preordained from the opening tip. West Virginia shot only 24.1 percent (13 of 54), including 2 of 15 from 3-point range, against the Wildcats (37-0), who were too long, too quick and just too good. Trey Lyles led five Kentucky players in double figures with 14 points and shot 60 percent (14 of 23) in the first half to end things early.
“That’s the best defensive team I think that I’ve ever coached against,” Huggins said. “And when they’re making shots, and they made shots today, when they make shots, there’s nobody going to beat them when they make shots like that.”
Juwan Staten led the Mountaineers with 14 points. The rest of his teammates made just eight baskets. Miles went scoreless in 19 minutes, missing all three of his shots. He simply repeated “Kentucky played good” over and over when asked if his comments had riled an already imposing lineup.
“What is he supposed to say? We are going to lose?” West Virginia forward Jonathan Holton said. “I like what he said because he was speaking from his heart. Kentucky has got a good program over there I guess.”
No guessing about it.
Five years ago in the Elite Eight, West Virginia stunned a top-seeded Kentucky team that’s a lot like this one, loaded with high school All-Americas and future NBA players. But the Wildcats weren’t going to let that happen again, and they blistered the Mountaineers in the opening 20 minutes, leaving the court with superfan/actress Ashley Judd dancing along with the thousands who made the trip north to Cleveland.
With stunning ease, the Wildcats built a 26-point lead in the first half over the Mountaineers, who led the nation in steals and figured their full-court press would at least bother Kentucky into some turnovers. Not only did the press not work, it opened up lane after lane to the basket for the Wildcats.
“We just didn’t really execute, we didn’t do the things we were supposed to do,” Staten said. “They made it hard for us to score and we didn’t play defense like we were supposed to and that’s just the way the game went.”
And never stopped. It was over by halftime, leaving final 20 minutes as little more than a glorified scrimmage as Kentucky moved closer to the first perfect season in 39 years. It wasn’t quite the ending Staten envisioned after a promising bounceback season for the Mountaineers. They finished fourth in the competitive Big 12, made it to the tournament for the first time in four years behind a suffocating and frenetic press that wore opponents down.
“Coach Hugs has always had great teams, teams that are used to being in the NCAA Tournament, used to winning games,” Staten said. “For a while we got away from that, so just to get back to this spot, you know, to be in the Sweet 16 means that we got a special thing.”
Sophomore forward Devin Williams spent most of the season as the energizer at the back end of the press and relentless pest under the basket. He had nine points and four rebounds in 21 minutes while dealing with foul trouble.
“I picked up two early fouls and kind of let that frustrate me, and I think that’s just a little maturity on my side, I got a little bit more growing up to do,” Williams said.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers have made the Sweet 16 in six of their last nine NCAA Tournament appearances. ... The Mountaineers came in 5-0 all-time in Cleveland, including 2-0 in NCAA games — both in 2005 at Cleveland’s Wolstein Center. ... Huggins has 765 career wins, 12th most in history and third among active coaches, trailing only Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim.
Kentucky: Aaron Harrison left briefly after injuring a finger on his left hand in the second half. He returned with it taped. ... The Wildcats aren’t just tall, but long. Kentucky’s 13 scholarship players have an average wing span of 6-foot-10 and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns stretches 7-foot-3 from tip to tip. ... The Wildcats improved to 22-3 in NCAA Tournament games under Calipari, seeking his fourth Final Four appearance and second national title.
West Virginia: Season over.
Kentucky: Faces Notre Dame on Saturday in the Elite Eight.