For WVU, it's a rematch — kind of
TAMPA, Fla. — Right before the NCAA Tournament selection show, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins checked his cell phone and saw a text message from good friend John Calipari.
"You know we're going to play again," the Kentucky coach wrote.
He was right.
"Either Cal has got somebody on the inside, or he's clairvoyant," Huggins joked. "I'm not sure which."
For the second time in as many seasons, the Mountaineers and Wildcats will meet to keep their seasons alive. In the East Region, No. 4 seed Kentucky and No. 5 West Virginia square off at 12:15 p.m. today for a trip to Newark, N.J., and a spot in the Round of 16.
"We'll probably play in the next six NCAA Tournaments," Huggins joked Friday. "I've known John for a long, long time, and we're been good friends for a long time."
A year ago, the teams met for a spot in the Final Four; the Mountaineers won, 73-66, in Syracuse, N.Y. The Mountaineers employed a 1-3-1 defense and caught the Wildcats on a bad shooting night. West Virginia made 10 3-pointers and held Kentucky to 34.3 percent shooting, as Huggins improved his record against Calipari to 8-1.
These teams are a bit different from what they were last year. For West Virginia, there are no last-second heroics from Da'Sean Butler. For Kentucky, gone to the NBA are John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
The three Kentucky players who spoke to reporters on the podium yesterday weren't even on the team last year. Freshmen Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight were at the McDonald's All-American Game and watched last year's matchup together after a practice.
"We definitely saw how the team last year struggled to shoot the basketball and how West Virginia basically made very shot," Knight said. "It was kind of tough to watch that."
"They have a completely different team," said West Virginia senior guard Joe Mazzulla, who scored 17 points in that game. "On our end, we're a much different team. We kind of spread the load out as far what we're going to do offensively, and we really have to rely on defense and rebounding."
Kentucky has an advantage in almost every statistical category, but the Mountaineers have a clear edge in experience. Kentucky has one senior: forward Josh Harrellson. West Virginia has six, five of whom play significant minutes.
"This team has changed," Calipari said. "I've had other young teams, and really we gear everything toward this time of the year."
NCAA Tournament third round: No. 4 Kentucky vs. No. 5 West Virginia
12:15 p.m. today, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Fla.
Records: Kentucky 26-8, West Virginia 21-11
TV/radio: KDKA-2, WTRF-7, WTAJ-10/WVAQ-FM (101.9), Mountaineer Sports Network, KQV-AM (1410), WJPA-AM (1450)
Favorite: Kentucky by 3 1/2
Series: Kentucky leads, 13-5
Outlook: West Virginia is coming off an 84-76 victory over Clemson. The Wildcats beat Princeton, 59-57, on Brandon Knight's winning layup in the final seconds.
The Wildcats have won their past seven games, including the SEC Tournament title in a 70-54 blowout of Florida, which garnered a No. 2 seed. Kentucky is 6-2 against Top-25 teams this season.
Kentucky is led by Terrence Jones, the SEC Freshman of the Year, who averages 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds.
This is a rematch of an Elite Eight game from last year, which West Virginia won, 73-66, in Syracuse, N.Y. Coach Bob Huggins is 8-1 against John Calipari. Conversely, Calipari is 10-7 against West Virginia, and Huggins is 1-3 against Kentucky.
• Coach: John Calipari, second season at Kentucky (61-11), 19th overall (506-151)
F Josh Harrellson, 6-10 Sr.: 7.0 points per game
F Terrence Jones, 6-8 Fr.: 16.3 ppg
G Doron Lamb, 6-4 Fr.: 12.8 ppg
G Darius Miller, 6-7 Jr.: 11.4 ppg
G Brandon Knight, 6-3 Fr.: 17.0 ppg
• Coach: Bob Huggins, fourth season at West Virginia (101-41), 29th overall (691-252)
F Cam Thoroughman, 6-7 Sr.: 2.7 ppg
F Kevin Jones, 6-8 Jr.: 13.3 ppg
F John Flowers, 6-7 Sr.: 9.4 ppg
G Truck Bryant, 6-2 Jr.: 11.1 ppg
G Joe Mazzulla, 6-2 Sr.: 7.3 ppg