UK looks for win over West Virginia in SEC/Big 12 Challenge


Head coach John Calipari claps his hands to fire up his team during the game against Mississippi State on Tuesday, January 23, 2018 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won the game 78-65. Photo by Hunter Mitchell.

Roman West

John Calipari will take his Kentucky Wildcats (15-5, 5-3) to Morgantown, West Virginia, for the first time since 1970 to take on Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers (16-4, 5-3) in this year’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Kentucky is 1-3 all time in the challenge, with its lone win coming in the 2014-15 season against Texas. Kentucky has lost to Kansas each of the past two seasons in the challenge and would have played them again this season if they hadn’t already been on the schedule in the Champions Classic.

The all-time series between UK and WVU has mostly been in favor of the Cats, leaning 15-5. However, Huggins owns the all-time series record between him and Calipari, winning eight of the 11 battles between the coaches.

The Mountaineers lost their first game of the season to Texas A&M before catching fire and going on a 15-game win streak, including a 13-point win against then-ranked No. 7 Oklahoma. Since then, they have dropped three of their last five.

The Mountaineers are led by senior guard Jevon Carter. Carter is the only player in the country to average more than 16 points, six assists and three steals per game. He also is second the country in steals (68) and in career games played among active players (127) as of Thursday afternoon.

Carter is at the forefront of the “Press Virginia” style of defense West Virginia plays with. As of Thursday afternoon, WVU ranks second in turnover margin (7.0), is fourth in forced turnovers (19.1), is seventh in steals per game (9.3) and is second in offensive rebounds per game (14.6).

West Virginia is forcing its opponents to turn it over on 26.1 percent of their possessions, good enough for second in the country. West Virginia has nearly forced more turnovers (382) than its opponents’ made field goals (423).

Kentucky is looking for a player to become “that guy.” No one player has stepped up for this team like players have in the past. First it was John Wall, then Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis and so on.

Without a guy like that on the team, somebody to go to in a crunch time situation, Calipari has been looking to start rotating more and evening out minutes to give everybody an opportunity.

“You don’t want anybody playing more than 30 minutes, maybe down to 28 minutes,” Calipari said on a SEC coaches’ teleconference on Thursday. “You get a rotation going and guys know that when they’re in and when they’re going in, being read, and you have your time, and what are you going to do with the minutes you have now, and there are no excuses. Let’s go.”

Tipoff for the game at WVU Coliseum is scheduled for 7 p.m.