West Virginia’s Keys to Victory versus Kentucky


West Virginia will play the role of “David” in this David versus Goliath Sweet 16 matchup.

The Mountaineers will be facing the overall, No. 1 seed in the tournament, undefeated Kentucky. The Wildcats have obtained a 36-0 record and are the runaway favorites to win the National Championship.

Can West Virginia hang with the Wildcats? If so, here’s what they will need to do:

Play Physical:

In Kentucky’s last game versus Cincinnati things were kept close knit during the first half because the Bearcats played very physical.

Mar 22, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers forward Devin Williams (5) shoots while guarded by Maryland Terrapins forward Jake Layman (10) during the second half in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Nationwide Arena. West Virginia won 69-59. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky’s entire team boasts tremendous size and always seems to put up a high number of blocks each game, but that doesn’t mean West Virginia should shy away from pounding the ball inside the paint.

In fact, that’s where the Mountaineers needs to do their damage, but in order to score close, they need to stand their ground and get physical with the Wildcats.

Against Maryland, West Virginia played very physical. Devin Williams had a fantastic game inside the lane. He led the team in scoring with 16 points and he also reeled 10 rebounds. It wasn’t just the stats, though. He was a force inside the lane with his aggressive attitude and will to go up and make plays.

West Virginia won the physicality battle versus the Terps. From Williams’ play, Daxter Miles Jr.’s scrappy ways or Nathan Adrian’s “knockout” screen — the Mountaineers were the more hostile and aggressive team.

While Kentucky will present a much bigger challenge inside the paint than Maryland, West Virginia has to maintain that physical mindset coming into this game. This seems plausible too, as head coach Bob Huggins has said his team isn’t intimidated by what’s ahead.

“No. I mean, I wish I could sit here and tell you we’re definitely going to win,” Huggins said.
“I can’t do that. But, I can tell you that we’re not going to be scared.”

“It’s another team,” said Williams. “They put their drawers on the same way we do. So that’s pretty much it. We’ve just got to prepare, and get our minds right.”

Keep doing what you do:

You don’t earned the nickname “Press Virginia” just for the kicks and giggles. West Virginia has lived by the full court press all season long. It’s been Huggins’ bread and butter and for the most part, it’s worked.

West Virginia’s turnover margin, on the season, is plus 6.7. The Mountaineers display the best turnover margin in the NCAA Tournament.

The biggest reason West Virginia was able to fend off Maryland was because of its defense. The pressure got to Maryland. The Terps turned the ball over 23 total times and the Mountaineers scored 26 points off of those mistakes.

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“We didn’t think teams would be able to prepare for our pressure,” said Juwan Staten. “Early in the game they we’re making good decisions. They were breaking our press. They were looking good, but they were using a lot more energy than they had to use all year. So we knew that at some point they would break. And they started slowing down. They started getting a little shaky with the ball.”

A large sum of West Virginia’s points come from turnovers. They are not a good shooting team and have to rely on scoring more often then their opposition.

“We get 16 more shots than what they get,” said Huggins after the game against Maryland. “That’s what we have to do. We have to get more shots. We shot 36 percent the first half. They shot 55. And we led by one. Because we get more shots.”

“It seemed like everywhere we go people say, well, it’s not pretty. Well, I think it’s beautiful. I love it. I love the fact that we can not make shots and still win, still find ways to score.”

Forcing Kentucky to surrender the ball and getting points off the turnovers will be a major factor in finding success versus the Wildcats.

Crashing the boards:

To kind of go hand-in-hand with being physical inside the lane, West Virginia must continue to rebound well.

On the season, the Mountaineers are out-rebounding their opposition 36.5 to 33.1. Against Maryland, West Virginia got the best of the Terps on the offensive boards, 14-8.

According to TeamRankings.com, West Virginia rankes seventh in the nation in terms of offensive rebounding percentage, while Kentucky ranks fifth.

The Mountaineers have seen a lot of production by coming up with second chances on the offensive glass. It was evident in both their previous NCAA Tournament wins versus Buffalo and Maryland.

More shots for West Virginia will equate to positive results. It’s unlikely the Mountaineers will win this game by shooting lights out, it will be up to other areas such a the offensive boards to play a key role.

West Virginia will need to play a very physical and fast game in order to compete. Having a bully-like presence inside the paint and bringing tenacious pressure needs to be the Mountaineers’ focus.

Generally speaking, not a whole lot of people are giving West Virginia a chance and it’s evident to why that is. Kentucky is an one of a kind team. But, if the West Virginia can implement what was mentioned above, maybe, just maybe the Mountaineers can slay the giants.