The Mountaineers are the upstart team that has started to get on a roll at the right time as the college basketball season is coming to a close. The Wildcats, the No. 1 team in the nation since the preseason, have run through every opponent they’ve gone up against - a team full of high school all-Americans that every expert expects to finish the season unblemished with a perfect 40-0 record.
As far as West Virginia is concerned, the stage has been set for them to prove they can play with anyone. Not only to prove it to outsiders, they want to prove it to themselves as well.
“We’re not all all-Americans, we don’t have a team full of pros and we’re not on TV all the time,” said WVU forward Elijah Macon. “This is our chance to show the world that we can beat anyone.”
West Virginia enters Thursday’s game as confident as it has been all season. With wins against Buffalo and Maryland, the Mountaineers have used their full-court pressure and their toughness as the key to the recent good fortunes they have experienced. And when they tip off against Kentucky at Quicken Loans Arena, they plan on sticking with that same strategy.
“We feel really good going into a game like this, and you have to be confident,” said freshman guard Daxter Miles, who made headlines Wednesday by saying that after Thursday’s game, the Wildcats would be 36-1.
“We’re some tough guys, but we can play with it too. We’re not just tough guys just out there doing dirty stuff. We’ll make plays. You have to worry about the plays we’re going to make.”
Part of the fuel to the fire for West Virginia leading up to Thursday’s matchup in the Sweet 16 has been the fact that so many people expect the Wildcats to run away with the game. It’s a perfect comparison to several players on the WVU roster. They feel overlooked, under-appreciated and like many are counting them out.
But this team full of under-the-radar recruits, junior college transfers and guys who are getting a second chance is used to that feeling. And they’re ready to prove people wrong again.
“We’re playing against guys who have had a lot given to them, and we’re wanting to go out there and show them what hard work really does for you,” said WVU guard Jaysean Paige. “We have a lot of guys who had to work their way up, we have guys who weren’t recruited like they probably should have been, but the common theme is that Coach Huggins believed in us and wanted to take a chance on us.
“That’s why we have come together so well. We’re all together - nobody feels left out, nobody feels less than. We’re all in with one another with this one goal in mind.”