Turning up the pressure


Kentucky head coach John Calipari conducts his platoons during the first half of the UK vs. UCLA game at the United Center in Chicago , Il., on Saturday, December 20, 2014. Photo by Jonathan Krueger

WVU looks to ratchet up its game for UK

By Joshua Huff

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Though the scenery shifts from the flooded streets of Louisville to the lakefront of Cleveland, UK head coach John Calipari faces a familiar foe Thursday in West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins.

Next up for UK is a team in the same mold as Cincinnati. A bruising, in your face, turnover-inducing WVU team that continues to defy expectations. After defeating Buffalo in the First Round and Maryland on Sunday, the Mountaineers face a tall task when they square up against undefeated UK in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Cats are four wins shy from becoming the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to end the season unbeaten.

Though UK remains a 13.5-point favorite over WVU, naysayers raise a kernel of truth, Huggins has an all-time series advantage over Calipari. In the 10 matchups between the two, Huggins has won eight.

And with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line, the Mountaineers hope to make it nine.

If WVU performs the way it did against Maryland: forcing 23 turnovers, 15 steals and held the Terps to just four points against the press in the second half, it could do what no team has done this season, defeat UK. Over the course of this season, though, the Mountaineers have been hampered by one crutch: a terrible offense. WVU shoots just 41 percent from the field, but has 500 more shot attempts than its opponents.

The Mountaineers are even worse from three, shooting 32 percent from beyond the arc and just 66 percent from the free throw line.

So without an offense, how does WVU counter UK’s depth, size and talent?

With fullcourt pressure defense. A suffocating, fatigue-inducing defense that relies on wearing opponents down, forcing turnovers and turning such into points. WVU, despite that, is the most penalized team in the nation, averaging 23 fouls a game. UK shoots 72 percent from the line, a place it looks to spend some time at against WVU.

WVU is also prolific on the offensive glass. It’s fourth in the nation in offensive rebound percentage at 40 percent. UK has struggled with offensive boards, especially in the second half against Cincinnati when the Bearcats pulled down 17 compared to UK’s four.

UK has had experience with physical defenses this season, though. The pressure of Arkansas, the physicality of LSU, Georgia and Cincinnati will have prepared the Cats for the Mountaineers’ trap defense. For UK to win, it will need to step up its offense, avoid a sluggish start, limit turnovers and be on point from the free throw line.