Kentucky comes into the game with a perfect 36-0 record after beating Cincinnati to advance past the Round of 32, as John Calipari's team has run through its competition all season using its athleticism and ability to create offense from its defense and by sharing the ball.
As West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins prepares his Mountaineers to take on the Wildcats in a few days, that unselfishness is one of the first things that he's been able to notice when evaluating the game tape.
"A lot is made about how good their players are, and certainly they are, but John's doing a terrific job of getting them to play together and share the ball," Huggins said Tuesday. "They guard so well, they're so long. I believe the stat is that they block one shot every five possessions, and that's phenomenal when you stop and think about it."
The Wildcats have used their defense to set the tone all season long, emerging as one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowing an average of just 53.9 points per game this season while scoring nearly 75 points. And while many are surprised by that because of Kentucky's tendency to have so many freshmen injected into the program, this is a different UK team than what Calipari has had in the past. Although the Wildcats still have a number of talented freshmen who are contributing in a big way this season, this year's Kentucky team also brings back several players from last year's team that lost in the national championship game and brought in the understanding of what was expected of them from the start of the season and set a good example for the new players - allowing the Wildcats to not miss a beat.
"This is maybe the first time in a long time where Cal has had some very integral pieces back," Huggins said. "(The Harrison twins) are back, and they're both 6-foot-6 and long, and they had a year with John to understand what he wants to do. This is Willie Cauley-Stein's third year and he is probably the one guy who is their best defender, I would say. He can guard four or five different positions, he changes so many shots and they can switch all the ball screens because he can really move his feet and guard on the perimeter.
"There was a base there that maybe they didn't have as much before. It's not just those three, there are some other guys back too."
While the Mountaineers understand the challenge ahead of them, their veteran coach believes that he's seen enough from them this season to prove that they are ready to embrace anything that comes their way and accept the challenge.
"These guys are good. They kind of relish the moment. They love to play, and that's what's fun about them," Huggins said. "They bring great enthusiasm to practice every day and they love playing, they love being around each other. Honestly, I was a little concerned. We went to Lawrence and played Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse without our two senior guards and I think our two freshmen kind of relished the moment. We didn't finish the way we wanted to finish that.
"I don't really have that kind of stress. I get a little nervous before the game, obviously, but I'm too busy trying to figure out a way to win right now to be stressed."