Sweet Revenge: UK slams WVU 78-39

Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats takes a shot during the Sweet 16 of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Quickens Loans Arena on Thursday, March 26, 2015 in Cleveland, Ky. Photo by Michael Reaves

By Joshua Huff

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West Virginia’s Sweet Sixteen experience was over the minute the ball left the referees hands during tipoff.

In a game dominated by countless fouls, poor shooting by West Virginia and an inability of the Mountaineers to solve UK’s defense, the Cats cruised to a 78-39 victory on Thursday in Quicken Loans Arena.

“I thought they were the best defensive team in the country,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “They’re terrific defensively. That’s the best defensive team that I think I’ve ever coached against.”

A trip to the Elite Eight against Notre Dame on Saturday now awaits UK.

The Cats jumped out to an 18-2 lead to open the game and West Virginia quickly became its own worst enemy, committing five fouls in less than five minutes, and was unable to score a bucket. The Mountaineers made just five shots in the first half while committing 14 fouls as they went into the break trailing 44-18.

Unfortunately for West Virginia, that was just the beginning.

Though UK’s defense was the deciding factor in the game, it was its depth that separated the two teams. With Karl-Anthony Towns scoring just one point, Tyler Ulis with two points and Willie Cauley-Stein sitting on eight points, the cast of Aaron (12 points) and Andrew Harrison (13), Devin Booker (12), Trey Lyles (14) and Dakari Johnson (12) picked up the slack.

With West Virginia determined to press from the onset, the key for UK was to limit the turnovers and force the Mountaineers to depend on their half-court defense and to foul. UK ended up with just 10 turnovers against a team who leads the nation in turnovers per game and forced the Mountaineers into committing 29 personal fouls.

The Cats went 26-for-32 from the free throw line.

“We just didn’t really execute,” guard Juwan Staten said of West Virginia’s defeat. “They made it hard for us to score. We didn’t play defense like we were supposed to. That’s just the way the game went.”

The game went decidedly against West Virginia early as UK pressed and forced the tempo against a Mountaineer team that thrives on gritty play and slowing the game down.

“You’re not going to be the aggressor,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “We’re going to be the aggressor.”

That mentality helped UK hold the Mountaineers to just 24 percent from the field and 13 percent from three.

“It’s really difficult to score against their half-court defense,” Huggins said. “I think Georgia probably did the best job … but they still didn’t win. I think this team is absolutely fantastic defensively.”