SCOUTING THE WILDCATS
Kentucky's success has been predicated upon the three-headed monster of Patrick Patterson (6-9, 235 lbs.), DeMarcus Cousins (6-11, 270 lbs.) and John Wall (6-4, 195 lbs.). The latter two, brought in by first-year head coach John Calipari, have been among the best newcomers in the nation. Cousins is incredible developed for a frosh, and has used his size and strength to dominate foes and hit 56 percent of his shots from the floor. He can play with a nasty streak, but showed his ability to remain under control against a chippy Wake Forest team. Cousins averages a double-double at 15 points and 10 rebounds, but struggles from the line (60 percent). West Virginia must be aware of its foul situation and use them wisely to slow the center, who will certainly reciprocate with his own physical style. Exceptional on the offensive glass, Cousins must be checked at all times and the Mountaineers must have a body on the big man and work him away from the bucket as much as possible. Wall, a top prep prospect out of Raleigh, has splashed onto the collegiate scene, using his extreme quickness, shooting and driving ability and length to average 16 points per game and rack up 236 assists. Wall moves well with the basketball and, though he does turn it over on occasion, his raw physical skill is often overwhelming for opponents. More a scorer than distributor, Wall is making 46 percent from the floor, 33 from three, and hitting 76 percent from the line. He isn't the strongest or most physical player, but his skill level is as good as any player West Virginia has faced this season. Patterson, as a junior, is the veteran team leader. He hits for 15 points and seven rebounds a game, and is making more than half his shots. Patterson has good range for a player his size, and can step out or attack the rim effectively. Built solidly, Patterson takes contact well and used his array of shots and scoring angles to rip WVU in the meeting last season for 15 points and 10 rebounds in being named to the All-Las Vegas Invitational team. A good shot blocker as well, this is another player the Mountaineers need to keep a body on.
The other two starters are also young, with guard Eric Bledsoe (6-1, 190 lbs.) a freshman and Darius Miller (6-7, 223 lbs.) a sophomore. Bledsoe is UK's outside threat, making almost 40 percent from three-point range. He has a quick trigger and will shoot from anywhere on the floor. Often the beneficiary of Wall's drive-and-kicks, Bledsoe is also able to drive it, but doesn't get to the line as effectively as the other three. The third-rated prep point guard in the nation, Bledsoe has more turnovers than assists, and his handling and decision making could be hindered, especially in the face of Joe Mazzulla's pressure. Miller, listed as a guard, is a nuts-and-bolts player who does a bit of everything well, but nothing extremely exceptional. He adds six points and 2.4 rebounds per game, and shoots well from the line. In a late game fouling situation, this is the player UK wants to have the ball and the one WVU does not. Miller is also a steadying influence for a team that is very young. Reserves Daniel Orton (6-10, 255 lbs.) and DeAndre Liggins (6-6, 202 lbs.) don't add much experience as a freshman and sophomore, respectively. But the duo plays a combined 25 minutes per game, allowing rest at the guard and forward slots and providing size (Orton) and shooting ability (Liggins). Calipari has mainly been using these two through the NCAA Tournament, and though Kentucky does have additional bench players who could contribute, it's unlikely Calipari will give and eighth player any more than five minutes or so. This will give West Virginia a bench edge, and how the game is called could also be a significant factor.
|Sat. March 27
7:05 p.m. EST
|Sirius Channel: 123 (UK)|
WVU – 4
UK – 2
Same old, same old. Kentucky wants to run and push transition and tempo on the Mountaineers. West Virginia wants a slowed, halfcourt game. It has been able to accomplish that in the last two rounds against Missouri and Washington via excellent rebounding, solid defense and intelligence and patience – for the most part – on offensive sets. UK has more talent, raw skill and ability than the Tigers and Huskies and should be better able to get into the lane, hit from outside and use size and strength to battle on the boards. Mazzulla remains a question as to staying on the floor and if, in his absence, WVU can value the ball better than it did against Washington. If it doesn't, Kentucky will win in a rout. The Mountaineers need to get into their grinder mode and, as much as anything else, test the ‘Cats mentally to see if the young group can take 40 minutes of intense defense and a slower, and at times grating, style. UK could grow quite frustrated and begin rushing shots or wildly attacking the bucket. That goes in West Virginia's favor, obviously, and could lead to even more pressing by the top seed. This one comes down to playmaking and valuing the ball. Nothing changes here. Make free throws, slow the pace, get back on defense. Rebound. Block out. Find that fine mix of patience and aggressiveness. It'll never be pretty. WVU just wants it to be effective.
WVU: Truck Bryant (Foot), Out for Season
West Virginia has won a single-season school record 30 games, including nine in a row. The Mountaineers are making their third Elite Eight appearance in school history (1959, 2005). In 1959, WVU beat Kentucky in the Kentucky Invitational. The Wildcats have since won seven straight series games.
* * *
Bob Huggins is 7-1 all-time against UK head coach John Calipari, all while at Cincinnati; Huggins went 2-0 when Calipari was at UMass and 5-1 when he was at Memphis. This is Huggins' fourth Elite Eight appearance.
* * *
WVU is 26-0 this season when holding foes to less than 70 points. It is 11-0 in neutral court games this year.
* * *
The Mountaineers are 20-25 all-time against teams currently in the SEC. They are 20-12 against teams other than UK.
* * *
This is the second-latest calendar date on which West Virginia has played. It is 1-1 all-time on March 27 – beating Mississippi State in the NIT semifinals in 2007 and losing in overtime to Xavier in the 2008 Elite Eight. The latest date, one might have guessed, is March 29, when the Mountaineers beat Clemson in the NIT title game.
* * *
West Virginia has had by far the most bland mascot match-ups of the tournament. The Mountaineers have beaten the Bears, Tigers, Huskies and now face the Wildcats. If WVU keeps winning and somehow plays Baylor and Butler, it'll be the most unoriginal mascot run-through in NCAA history.