How To Beat Kentucky

It is, to be sure, a monumental task. But if a blueprint exists for West Virginia to take down what many pundits believe is the best team remaining in the NCAA Tournament, it will look something like the following:


Much of the talk about UK's youth is largely meaningless. John Wall doesn't seem to get rattled by anything. DeMarcus Cousins, beyond the relatively short fuse he has when it comes to getting beaten up in the post, follows the same pattern.

But one way to make that inexperience matter is to throw something at the Wildcats they haven't had to deal with much. The 1-3-1 zone could be that game-changer.

Huggins has used that defense as a pitcher would a change-up -- something to keep opponents on their toes, to not let them get too comfortable. It's worked in that role to great effect.

But he might want to make it a more prominent part of the arsenal for Saturday night's game.

It could limit the ability of UK's guards to dribble penetrate and create easy shots. It could make it harder to feed the ball to Cousins (who, to be frank, West Virginia has no match for in the man-to-man).

And while Wildcats coach John Calipari will certainly be telling his players just how long Devin Ebanks is at the top of that zone, it's something they simply won't be able to simulate in practice. Ebanks could generate a few turnovers and perhaps lead to some easy baskets (more on that in a moment).


This one is easier said than done, because, by all accounts, Wall is the likely No. 1 overall selection in the upcoming NBA Draft because of his speed and ability to create off the dribble.

But few would say Wall is a dead-eye shooter. Sure, he can knock down open shots, but he's typically not going to go on a 3-point shooting binge like former UK guard Jodie Meeks, who declared early for the NBA after Calipari's hiring.

While we'll discuss Kentucky's front line momentarily, let's make sure one thing is clear -- it, like every other part of the Wildcats' roster -- is filled with talent.

But one thing that makes Cousins and Patrick Patterson even better than they already are is Wall's ability to draw multiple defenders and then make great passes.

UK might be the best interior passing team in the country. So if West Virginia wants to avoid giving Cousins a series of easy lay-ups, it would behoove the Mountaineers to do their best to stay in front of Wall.

That means Devin Ebanks will have to play perhaps the best defensive game of his life when WVU plays man-to-man, and it also is yet another reason to use the 1-3-1 zone a bit more frequently than other games.


Those who have played enough pick-up games know that basically means "foul and foul hard rather than giving up lay-ins."

Cousins is a poor free throw shooter (only 60.5 percent from there -- and, indeed, UK is not the best foul shooting team in general), and West Virginia can go a long way towards minimizing his impact on those occasions he does get free looks by simply hacking him, and doing so hard enough to make sure he doesn't get an old-fashioned 3-point play.

Of course, there is a double-edged sword to this strategy, as the Mountaineers' interior depth is not the most tested. Is Huggins prepared to use Deniz Kilicli and Danny Jennings for a few extra minutes (and fouls) to make it work?

I'll go as far as to say I don't expect Huggins to utilize this one -- he'll try to have players guard Cousins straight-up.

But it would behoove whoever matches up with Kentucky's talented center from Alabama to make him work for his points instead of giving up the kinds of powerful plays to the rim and lay-ups that characterized the Wildcats' Sweet Sixteen win over Cornell.


For all the talk of UK's ability to score with Wall, Cousins, Patrick Patterson and others, it's really the team's defense that has gotten it to this point.

After giving up 10 quick points to the Big Red on Thursday night at the Carrier Dome, Calipari's defense cranked up the intensity in a big way.

Cornell had a 10-2 lead when Louis Dale made a 3-pointer with 15:17 to go in the first half. Kentucky would only allow six more points for the remainder of the period.

So while the talk has been about the need for the Mountaineers to limit their opposition's transition game, they also would do themselves a service to get as many easy points as possible.

That means running in transition better than they have most of the season (and, not to be crass, but being without Truck Bryant might actually help that effort, as he seems to struggle most in fast-break situations).

It also means being aggressive in attacking inside. Sure, Cousins is an imposing force in the post, as is Patterson (to a degree). But they are just as apt as anyone else to pick up fouls when trying to defend near the goal.

Free throws are the ultimate in easy points -- being at the line is the one time all game West Virginia players won't have to worry about defenders being in their faces. Getting to shoot foul shots will be of pivotal importance in a game that figures to be a defensive struggle.


Okay, so this is a bit obvious. But Kentucky's defense will force WVU into a lot of situations where it has to take intermediate and long-range jumpers. They have to go in at a decent clip if the Mountaineers are to win.

This isn't rocket science, but it's fact nonetheless: if Da'Sean Butler goes three-of-18 from the field, West Virginia is probably in big, big trouble.

The same goes for Kevin Jones, whose shooting touch made a big difference in Thursday's regional semifinal win over Washington. And if someone else (like Wellington Smith or Casey Mitchell) could hit a couple of shots, it would go a long way towards making this a winnable game in the final minutes.


So much focus is spent on UK's big three stars (Cousins, Patterson, Wall) that it's easy to forget that Eric Bledsoe, Darius Miller and Daniel Orton are all incredibly skilled in their own right.

Bledsoe and Miller are a threat to go off for big scoring nights on any occasion. Orton does all the right things in limited minutes -- indeed, he could declare for the NBA Draft this offseason and he doesn't even start for Kentucky.

With Patterson (three-of-12 from the field) and Wall (unsuccessful on all three of his 3-point attempts) struggling with their shots on Thursday night, it fell to Bledsoe and Miller to pick up some of the slack.

They did, as the former hit eight of his 10 foul shots (the rest of the UK roster was only eight-of-16 from the line) and the latter had nine points, four assists and no turnovers.

Indeed, it will take a total team defensive effort from the Mountaineers to make a victory possible. If one of the Wildcats' less-heralded players starts going off early, it could be a long night.

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