Scoring Drought Downs WVU
TAMPA – Freshman Brandon Knight scored 30 points to lead Kentucky to a 71-63 victory over West Virginia Saturday afternoon in an NCAA tournament East regional third round game at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
"He was really good," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. "There is a reason why everyone recruits those guys."
The fifth-seeded Mountaineers used a 22-7 run at the end of the first half to take a 41-33 lead at the break, but a six-minute scoring drought at the beginning of the second half allowed Kentucky to get back into the game.
“I guess a lack of intensity on our part at the start of the second half was the reason they were able to come back,” said guard Joe Mazzulla.
Knight keyed the run with a basket inside at the start of the second half, and later a 3 from the wing gave the Wildcats a 41-40 lead.
West Virginia retook the lead, 49-48, on a Mazzulla drive to the basket and a four-point play by Casey Mitchell at the top of the key kept the Mountaineers ahead, 53-51.
Truck Bryant’s drive to the basket gave West Virginia a four-point, 55-51, advantage with 7:32 remaining, culminating a 10-3 run.
But fourth-seeded Kentucky responded with back-to-back baskets by Terrence Jones to tie the game at the 6:18 mark, and a pair of empty possessions by West Virginia – both misses by Mitchell – allowed Kentucky to build a five-point lead, 60-55.
West Virginia (21-12) made it a one-possession game, 61-58, with 2:02 left when Kevin Jones put in a baseline hook, but the Wildcats made enough free throws down the stretch to advance to the Sweet 16 next weekend in Newark, N.J.
Kentucky led the Mountaineers 23-16 with 9:17 left in the first half before West Virginia’s run, the offense coming mainly from guards Mazzulla and Bryant.
Mazzulla had 15 of his career-high 20 in the first half, while Bryant added 11 of his 15 points before fouling out late in the game. With the score tied at 33, West Virginia got eight points in a span of 1:10. Bryant hit a 3 from the corner and then Cam Thoroughman gave the Mountaineers three more when he hit a free throw and then followed his own miss to get a put-back basket.
A Brandon Knight turnover led to a Jon Hood foul of Mitchell with four-tenths of a second left on the clock to give Mitchell two free throws and the Mountaineers an eight-point lead.
West Virginia, which scored 22 points in the second half, finished the game hitting 22 of 53 field goal attempts for 41.3%.
“In the second half we let them get out in transition and get easy baskets, and their key players got into the flow of the game,” said Jones.
“We got all balled up again, when we stayed spread we have a better chance,” said Huggins of his team’s second-half offensive woes. “We’re just too small not to spread people. We just get swallowed up with size when we don’t get spread.”
The Wildcats (27-8) made 48% of their field goal tries and out-scored West Virginia 34-20 in the paint – 15 coming from 6-foot-10 forward Josh Harrelson. The senior made two critical baskets to key Kentucky’s comeback, a second one with 5:27 to play when he beat Thoroughman to the glass, giving the Wildcats back the lead, 57-55.
Terrence Jones had 12 for Kentucky while Mitchell added 11 for the Mountaineers.
“I think we took a lot of rushed shots and made a lot of unforced turnovers,” said Jones.
The win was John Calipari’s second over Huggins in 10 opportunities. Huggins and Calipari had a long embrace at midcourt after the game.
“I just wished him good luck and told him to win the thing,” said Huggins.
West Virginia was making its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance under Huggins and its sixth in the last seven years.
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