After completely bombing for much of the first half, the Da'Sean Butler-led Mountaineers rode brilliant 3-point shooting to a huge win over the cold-shooting Wildcats, who failed to hit a shot from beyond the arc until the waning minutes of the second half.
The unsung hero for WVU is Joe Mazzulla, who averaged 2.2 points per game this season but poured in 17 (a career high) for the offensively-strapped Mountaineers.
Second half, 13.8 seconds, West Virginia 71-66: Darnell Dodson sinks another 3 to pull within four with about 30 seconds left. Wow. It is actually feasible that if WVU doesn't make all its free throws, Kentucky can come back.
Kevin Jones is at the line and sinks one of two.
On the other end, Dodson completely airballs a 3 and that should do it. Really, this time.
Second half, 51.3 seconds, West Virginia 69-61: John Wall's runner doesn't fall and West Virginia grabs the rebound. Wall aggressively fouls and he's done — barring all catastrophes, for the season. That should seal it for the Mountaineers.
Second half, 1:14, 68-61: Kentucky has zero timeouts, and the possession arrow is in favor of West Virginia. Basically, the Mountaineers just have to not mess up monumentally and the Final Four is in the bag.
I did, however, once see a Miami-UConn game in which Miami overcame a five-point deficit in the final seven seconds of a game to shock the Huskies, so you never know.
Second half, 1:19, 68-61: John Wall banks in a huge 3 from way, way outside, and suddenly it's a seven-point game.
Second half, 1:40, 67-58: Darnell Dodson quickly sinks a 3 — his first points of the game and Kentucky's second trey. Suddenly, it feels like the momentum is really turning in the Wildcats' favor. May be too little, too late, though.
On the next possession, WVU hits two free throws to stretch the lead back out to nine.
Second half, 2:11, West Virginia 64-55: Yikes. There's a loose ball and Joe Mazzulla hustles for it, then barrels in to DeAndre Liggins. Liggins sells the call and that's it for Mazzulla. Now, WVU is stuck without a ball-handler the rest of the way.
Also, Liggins saw Mazzulla coming for him and chucked the ball at the hoop from way outside to draw the foul, and he sinks two.
Second half, 2:33, West Virginia 63-53: Eric Bledsoe bricks another one from the line (he's 0-for-5) before draining the tail end. Joe Mazzulla checks back in for the Mountaineers to give them a legitimate ball-handler as the time ticks down.
Second half, 2:55, West Virginia 63-52: I still cannot believe how bad West Virginia was in the first half and how they managed to come back and dominate by the end of it and throughout the second. I guess they do always say, though, that when you're dominating the box score and you're not up by much, trouble lies ahead.
The 3-point drought finally ends for Kentucky, as DeAndre Liggins drains one.
Second half, 4:14, West Virginia 61-47: The Wildcats' body language is terrible right now. Guys are shuffling off the court, lazily jogging on from the bench … It's not quite over yet, guys, come on.
Second half, 4:40, West Virginia 59-45: Kentucky will have a double-bonus for the rest of the night, but it doesn't seem to be helping — Eric Bledsoe bricks two from the line, and with five minutes left, that certainly isn't helping.
In transition, Devin Ebanks hits a jumper to extend the lead to 14. Kentucky's not coming back in this one.
Second half, 6:38, West Virginia 55-45: If Kentucky wants to come back, it should probably try not to leave Mountaineers big men wide open right under the net so they can cruise in for lay-ins. Just saying. John Wall gets caught sleeping there.
Second half, 7:15, West Virginia 53-45: Joe Mazzulla — not to harp — averages 2.2 per game and 3.7 in the tournament. He has 16 tonight. He'll certainly be the hero if he pushes this squad into the Final Four.
Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe fires one off from 3 and — shocker — misses. Fortunately, DeMarcus Cousins gets fouled on the put-back and sinks both.
Second half, 7:30, West Virginia 53-43: John Wall sets up for a trey and is immediately stuffed. With seven and a half left, I'm going out on a limb to say it's going to take a lot — like a lights-out drought from the Mountaineers — for Kentucky to come back.
Second half, 8:25, West Virginia 51-42: Joe Mazzulla sinks two free throws and now has 14 tonight. That's a season high for him, and on the other end, DeMarcus Cousins travels and gives WVU another opportunity.
Second half, 11:41, West Virginia 47-38: Kentucky misses on four straight 3-point chances before WVU finally comes away with the rebound and sinks one on the other end. Kentucky is now 0-for-16 from beyond the arc and really is looking like it's unraveling.
Second half, 11:59, West Virginia 47-36: John Wall bricks one from outside, and Kentucky is now 0-for-13 from 3-point land. Joe Mazzulla comes back on the other end and drives one in; he has 12 now.
Great line from Jay Bilas: "You could drive a truck through some of the openings Joe Mazzulla has had to the basket."
West Virginia is now hitting them from all over the floor, and the Wildcats aren't hitting them from anywhere. We're inside 12 minutes and the lead is growing, so obviously, things aren't looking good for Kentucky.
Second half, 13:40, West Virginia 40-34: John Wall bricks one from the free throw line but sinks the second.
Now that the Mountaineers don't absolutely stink from the paint (they're 3-for-4 this half), the Wildcats are really going to be tested, maybe for the first time during this tournament. It'll be interesting to see whether WVU can keep it up, and if it does, how Kentucky will respond to the adversity.
Kentucky's Eric Bledsoe heads to the bench with four fouls, and with over 13 minutes left, that doesn't bode well for John Calipari's squad.
Second half, 14:37, West Virginia 38-31: Joe Mazzulla was in good position to end the drought from the paint, but he booted the ball off his foot and commits just the fourth turnover of the night for the Mountaineers.
It's amazing how poorly the Mountaineers played for the first half of the first half, and how quickly they rebounded. Once they go cold from 3-point land, though, the trouble is bound to start again. Posting an O-fer from the paint is nothing to be proud of; hopefully it won't come back to bite them.
And just as I say that, Devin Ebanks sinks a jumper for two, and Mazzulla drives one down the lane.
Second half, 17:35, West Virginia 36-26: John Flowers tallies another 3, making that 10 for the Mountaineers. Unreal. This is the biggest lead of the game, for either squad.
Second half, 18:20, West Virginia 31-26: It appears that DeMarcus Cousins has fouled Da'Sean Butler in a "sensitive spot," as our TV crew has put it. Butler falls to his knees in pain (although he stays in the game), while Cousins heads to the bench with three. Definitely a case of Butler drawing the call with the excessive reaction.
Second half, 19:24, West Virginia 31-26: And Kevin Jones starts the second half off with a 3. The Mountaineers are now 9-for-16 from beyond the arc. At this point, why even try working the ball in?
Halftime, West Virginia 28-26: The Mountaineers manage to head into halftime with a lead despite failing to score from inside the arc.
For much of the first half, WVU's offense was completely anemic, but once the hot-handed Da'Sean Butler got going midway through, the Mountaineers managed to make this a game.
First half, 35 seconds, West Virginia 27-26: John Flowers returns the favor to Kentucky, rejecting a bid by John Wall.
First half, 1:37, West Virginia 27-22: DeAndre Liggins commits a foul and mouths off to the ref, getting slapped with a technical. Da'Sean Butler sinks both.
Dare I say Kentucky is unraveling?
First half, 2:46, West Virginia 25-20: And he's heating up. Da'Sean Butler sinks another 3 and gets fouled, tallying the rare four-point play to give WVU its biggest lead of the game.
That's his fourth 3 of the night, and he's well on his way to his average of 17.5 points per game.
First half, 3:37, West Virginia 21-20: Devin Ebanks tries to get the Mountaineers their first points in the paint with a reverse, but it doesn't fall. I'm kind of excited to see if they can go the whole half with a lead and zero points from inside the arc.
First half, 4:11, West Virginia 21-18: Again, just to reiterate: WVU is 0-for-9 from the paint and is engaged in a tie game here.
False, the Mountaineers are in the lead after Jones' third consecutive 3-pointer. All 21 points on 3's.
Certainly not a trend WVU would like to continue, but for now, it's working.
This has to be the ugliest lead in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
First half, 4:54, 18-18: OK, I might eat my words. Another 3 — from Kevin Jones — pulls WVU within one. It's amazing that West Virginia's offense has been so bad this half and yet it is down by a single point. It's not like Kentucky's offense has been horrendous, either — or maybe the Wildcats' 38.9 shooting percentage has just been overshadowed by WVU's general futility.
Jones' second straight 3 pulls WVU into a tie. Quick turn of events here.
First half, 6:25, Kentucky 16-12: Another 3 for WVU, and this time, it's Da'Sean Butler. Those are his first point of the game, and he averages 17.5 each time out. If he can get going, WVU has a very realistic opportunity of hanging in here.
Each of WVU's 12 points have come on treys.
First half, 7:16, 15-9: John Wall lays a filthy block on a Joe Mazzulla lay-in. That's Kentucky's fourth block of the night.
It doesn't really feel like Kentucky's offense is heating up all that much, but even though they aren't scoring each time they have the ball, it does seem like the Wildcats are stuffing every opportunity the Mountaineers get.
First half, 8:20, Kentucky 16-9: Kentucky is outrebounding WVU 15-7 right now. Not something you want to see if you're WVU and your offense is one-fifth of its shots.
And there's a dagger for WVU. Kentucky commits a clear backcourt violation, but it goes uncalled, and Kentucky proceeds to hit a jumper as Bob Huggins goes nuts on the sidelines.
First half, 8:51, Kentucky 14-9: Da'Sean Butler, the No. 3 all-time scorer in West Virginia history, is 0-for-4 tonight.
This is the kid who tallied both game-winners for WVU in close games in the conference tournament; obviously, the Mountaineers are going to need him to heat up to get this offense going. It just looks completely flat.
First half, 9:58, Kentucky 13-9: The Mountaineers try to work the ball around the perimeter and seek a good shot instead of firing off a quick 3, but Deniz Kilicli commits a foul to kill the possession.
On the defensive end, though, WVU is doing a good job of keeping the ball outside the paint and forcing the Wildcats to put up shots from outside.
First half, 11:42, Kentucky 13-9: This free-for-all 3-point shooting is really bugging me. Just stop doing it. The Mountaineers miss yet another one, and they better hope this doesn't spiral out of control before they can get back into this one.
WVU's drought has now stretched to 6:18.
And it ends! Joe Mazzulla hits his first 3 — of the season, ironically — to give the Mountaineers their first points in almost seven minutes.
First half, 12:32, Kentucky 13-6: After another jumper fails to fall, WVU has missed its last nine shots.
First half, 14:16, Kentucky 13-6: Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. The Mountaineers just were the beneficiaries of a media timeout, but they already regroup. Nothing is falling for them, and frequent turnovers won't fly against a team like Kentucky. No disrespect, but this is not Washington.
Eleven unanswered for the Wildcats, and on the next possession, Devin Ebanks — you guessed it — fires a miss from beyond the arc. WVU is now 0-for-3 from 3-point land after starting out 2-for-2.
First half, 14:57, Kentucky 11-6: Kentucky has scored all of its point in the paint, whereas the Mountaineers have gotten all of their points from the perimeter — and haven't scored since those two early 3's.
WVU is supposed to be the one with the top-ranked defense; it needs to rely on that a bit more and take smart shots instead of firing anything and everything from outside.
Kentucky's 9-0 run continues, with an and-1 by John Wall.
First half, 15:53, Kentucky 8-6: WVU began the game 2-for-2 from the floor and has since gone 0-for-3.
First half, 16:26, 6-6: John Wall drives to the hoop and connects with DeMarcus Cousins for a nifty behind-the-back-ish pass under Wellington Smith's arm. Cousins follows through with the lay-in.
First half, 17:33, West Virginia 6-2: Neither of these teams played particularly well last time out — the Mountaineers committed 23 turnovers against Washington but still managed to escape with a pretty comfortable win. Kentucky's offense struggled against a hungry Cornell team that couldn't get the job done.
Needless to say, both will need to be at their best. The competition is a bit steeper this time around.
After the Wildcats get the first bucket, Devin Ebanks sinks a 3, snags the rebound on the next possession, and dishes to Kevin Jones, who sinks a 3 of his own.
First half, 19:55: Kentucky wins the tipoff, and we're underway. The Wildcats are in the home whites, the Moutaineers are in the road blacks.
6:45 p.m.: West Virginia and Kentucky are probably the best two teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament, and with a Final Four appearance on the line, this is one you won?t want to miss.
Since Cornell held Kentucky to only 62 points last time out, the Wildcats will be held to even less against WVU?s top-ranked defense (11th nationally). Add that to WVU?s physical presence on the court, and the only thing that keeps this game from getting out of hand is Kentucky?s underrated defense and its star center, DeMarcus Cousins.
Tipoff is set for 7:05.