Mountaineers Go Cold Again As Kentucky Rallies Past WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It was, once again, right there for the taking.
Another big win, another RPI booster for West Virginia. The end to a skid of three losses in four games. But just like against Kansas – and Texas Tech and TCU – a lead after the first half quickly dissipated in the second as Kentucky roared back to outscore WVU 21-2 in one stretch and send the Mountaineers tumbling to another frustrating defeat.
The final of 83-76 will sting if for no other reason than that West Virginia was again brilliant in stretches, building a 17-point margin twice before the offense again ceased to operate, or create quality looks, or finish around the rim, or generate second chance points. It was an eerie replay of the Kansas game, WVU being outrebounded 29-13 in the second half while allowing 26 total second chance points.
It was clear Kentucky’s longer athletes bothered the Mountaineers, who were outscored 50-28 over the final 20 minutes on a series of drives and putbacks from a line-up that has no player shorter than 6-foot-5. The main culprit was 6-9 freshman Kevin Knox, who easily set a career high with 34 points – he had 25 in one game this season – while torching WVU from all over the floor.
Knox hit 11-of-17 shots, including five three-pointers, and went 7-for-8 from the line. It was a fantastic showing, and it tore into the fabric of what West Virginia was trying to do defensively, namely push UK away from the bucket and then keep the Wildcats off the boards. In the second half, the Mountaineers did neither while their offense also went away again, mimicking the issues in recent defeats.
“They went to the glass aggressively and they got second-chance points, which hurt us,” WVU’s Jevon Carter said. “They are athletic. (Our goal was to) try to run offense, try to slow them down. Take better shots. It got stagnant in the second half. We weren’t really running it like we were in the first half.”
West Virginia actually went nearly seven minutes with just two points during what was truly the decisive push. Ahead 54-37 after a Sags Konate jumper, the Mountaineers went ice cold from the field again, managing just a Magic Bender lay-up as Kentucky rallied to take a 58-56 lead via the 21-2 run that handed UK the momentum going to the final 10 minutes.
It hearkened back, if in result and not style, to the 23-3 run pieced together by TCU, or the massive comeback that saw Kansas overcome a 16-point deficit. The Mountaineers also led by 14 at Texas Tech, and were ahead by 11 entering the final 13 minutes of that game. All were losses for a team now staring at four losses in five games after a 15-1 start.
“Especially with the lead we had we all know we should have won that game,” Chase Harler said. “It leads a sour taste in our mouths. Knox really hurt us. We tried to take him out of the game but he still got his shots. We handled “the length) well in the first half. The second half just wasn’t our game. That’s why they made their run.
“We started off great. The energy was good. We were running offense. We kind of went away from running offense. We gotta keep the energy up. Early in the first half we had it, and when they hit that run it was hard for us to come back from that. Get ready for Iowa State. We always want to win but we can bounce back from it.”
But that ability to rebound, no pun intended, becomes harder and harder after each of these similar losses. It’s true that literally no lead is safe with this group because of its struggles in shooting and overall offensive execution at times. It’s a major worry moving forward, especially with a road game against the Cyclones looming before a rather hot Kansas State foe comes to town on Saturday. There is little rest for the weary, especially with the work that needs to be done.
“A lot,” Carter said when asked what head coach Bob Huggins said in the locker room afterward. “A lot.”