CLEVELAND, Ohio — Press Virginia met with a depressing conclusion.
No. 1 Kentucky was unfazed, unbothered and looked unbeatable throughout much of Thursday night’s Sweet 16 romp, a 78-39 whipping that went down as West Virginia’s worst defeat in 53 NCAA tournament games.
“(Kentucky) had a good day and we had a miserable day, you know, so we lose by 40,” said Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins.
His team’s harassing, baseline-to-baseline defense became a signature style this season, but Kentucky’s defense stole the marquee this time. Allowing only 53.9 points per game, the Wildcats (37-0) didn’t allow West Virginia anywhere near that output.
The Mountaineers (25-10) trailed 18-2 after nine minutes and 44-18 at the break, their lowest-scoring half of the season spawned by 19 percent shooting. When they opened the second half 0-of-11, it was clear West Virginia was in for a historically brutal night.
After watching Kentucky’s length and defensive discipline squeeze passing lanes and alter shots, Huggins concluded his 33rd year as a head coach with a resounding compliment:
“That’s the best defensive team I think that I’ve ever coached against.”
The 39 points matched 2008’s loss to Cincinnati as WVU’s lowest output in the past 54 seasons. The 24.1 percent shooting was the worst for any team in Sweet 16 history, as was the margin of defeat.
Only Juwan Staten reached double figures for West Virginia, finishing with 14 points. The All-Big 12 point guard drew even more defensive attention after Devin Williams picked up two fouls in the opening 1:14.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward—West Virginia’s only prayer to score inside against Kentucky’s cadre of NBA-sized big men—went to the end of the bench for the next 7 minutes, before returning. He finished with nine points on 2-of-9 shooting and four rebounds in 21 minutes.
“I picked up two early fouls and kind of let that frustrate me, and I think that’s just a little immaturity on my side,” Williams said. “I got a little bit more growing up to do.”
Unable to score, West Virginia also was unable to rev up its pressure defense, forcing a mere 10 turnovers, about half their season average. Kentucky forced 13, flipping the script at times with its own press.
Trey Lyles paced the Wildcats with 14 points, and Andrew Harrison scored 13, including a twisting, behind-the-back shot that somehow went in as he was hacked by Jevon Carter.
“There’s nobody going to beat them when they make shots like that,” Huggins said.
Aaron Harrison scored 12 points, all in the first half when the Wildcats shot 60 percent, and Devin Booker and Dakari Johnson each finished with the same. Willie Cauley-Stein contributed eight points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
“I was really pleased with the energy of our team,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “I was pleased with how zoned in they were, with how we were going to attack the press.
“We beat a really good team pretty good, but that’s not indicative of the year they had.”
Kentucky enjoyed a 44-32 rebounding edge and a 36-12 scoring advantage in the paint, more than living up to the hype.
“We really got outworked as a team,” said Williams. “We couldn’t have played any worse and I don’t think they could have played any better.”