Kentucky shows signs of growth with comeback win at West Virginia – Men’s College Basketball Blog
A week ago, Kentucky coach John Calipari opened up his postgame news conference — following a two-point home loss to Florida which would eventually lead to the Wildcats falling out of the top 25 for the first time in nearly four years — by saying, “We’re going to be fine.”
Calipari, despite the flaws his young, talented squad has shown at multiple points this season, was still confident that the growth he wanted to see was happening.
It was fair to question that assessment a week later, because for a significant chunk of Saturday night’s barnburner at No. 7 West Virginia, the Wildcats were a mess. They committed 11 first-half turnovers. They trailed by 17 points with 17 minutes to go. As Jevon Carter and James Bolden drained 3-pointers left and right and the raucous home crowd reached fever pitch, it seemed like it might be too much for Kentucky.
Instead, the Wildcats proved Calipari prescient.
After a mistake-filled start, Kentucky regrouped and pulled off its most impressive victory of the season, an 83-76, come-from-behind road triumph over the Mountaineers that showed the Wildcats are growing up.
How did Kentucky (16-5) pull off the comeback? It was twofold: The Wildcats took better care of the ball in the second half and West Virginia was unable to set up its press as often.
The Mountaineers (16-5) thrive on their full-court pressure, and it was ubereffective in the first half as they forced 10 Kentucky turnovers in the first 10 minutes. Behind Carter’s 18-point first half (which included four 3-pointers), West Virginia raced out to a 48-33 halftime lead.
In the second half, West Virginia shot an underwhelming 32.4 percent. The result? Bob Huggins’ squad could set up its press only four times, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Kentucky committed only five second-half turnovers and freshman forward Kevin Knox took off, scoring 19 of his 34 points and grabbing six of his seven rebounds.
Calipari has been wanting Knox to assert his will, and that he did Saturday. And that, in turn, led the Wildcats on a 25-6 run to turn a 52-37 deficit into a 62-58 lead with 9:37 remaining.
And though the Mountaineers punched back — Bolden (17 points) hit back-to-back 3s to regain the lead for West Virginia — the Wildcats counterpunched, attacking the basket, not settling for jumpers. Of Kentucky’s final 21 points, 16 came on free throws, layups or dunks.
It’s a punch in the gut for West Virginia and its second loss this week (it dropped an 82-73 decision at TCU on Monday). It’s now the Mountaineers’ fourth loss in five outings, perhaps particularly tough to swallow given how much control they had of Saturday’s game early in the second half. They’ve had double-digit second-half leads in three of those losses.
For Calipari and the Wildcats, though, it might be a sign of things to come.