Knight's Career High 30 Enough to Lead Kentucky Past West Virginia
A year ago, Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers reigned victorious in their Elite 8 showdown with Kentucky. At the time, Wildcats forward Josh Harrelson could do nothing but watch as Calipari’s crop of talented freshmen (John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Daniel Orton) struggled to break down WVU’s matchup zone in a 73-66 loss.
Harrellson was on the bench last year in Syracuse, relegated to mop-up duty behind Cousins, Orton and Patrick Patterson (Harrellson played 85 total minutes last season).
Meanwhile, freshman guard Brandon Knight had just finished his Gatorade National Player of the Year campaign in Florida and was in Columbus, OH at the 2010 McDonalds All-American game with future teammates Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones watching the game at a local hotel.
On Saturday, Harrelson and Knight made the most of their shot at No. 5 WVU, helping No. 4 Kentucky take control of their Round of 32 game, despite trailing by eight points at halftime.
In a contest of game-changing runs, it was the Wildcats’ final charge that proved to be the difference in the teams’ 19th all-time meeting.
Down 55-51 with just over 7:30 to play, Kentucky went on a 20-8 run to close out the game.
Knight, who scored the game-winning basket in Kentucky’s second round 57-55 win over Princeton on Thursday, dominated Huggins' matchup zone with a mixture of penetration moves, 3-point baskets and pull-up jump shots en route to a career-high 30 points.
Senior guard Joe Mazzulla, who battled lower back spasms most of the afternoon, led the Mountaineers in scoring with a career-high 20 points (his previous career high was the 17 points he scored in last year’s Elite 8 contest) in what was his final collegiate game.
With the win Saturday, Calipari is now 2-8 all-time against Huggins.
Player of the Game:
Brandon Knight (G, Kentucky)
From the outset, Knight proved his two-point showing against Princeton was nothing short of an aberration. Whether attacking off the dribble or from behind the 3-point line, Knight single-handedly put the Wildcats on his back when they needed him most.
Credit Calipari for taking Knight off Mazzulla on the defensive end in the second half, because the freshman’s explosiveness and high energy approach was crucial to the Wildcats’ late-game run.
The Florida native also had two huge assists down the stretch, which gave the Wildcats some distance in the final moments.
Josh Harrellson’s 15 points and eight rebounds fails to capture the impact he had on Saturday's game. The SEC’s leading offensive rebounder (3.7 per game) proved his worth with a 15-second sequence that won't be found in tomorrow’s box score.
On one of Knight’s few misses from downtown, Harrellson out-muscled WVU forward Deniz Kilicli to retain possession for the Wildcats. He went up for the putback, missed it, got the offensive rebound, missed again and, sure enough, grabbed one more offensive board before putting it off the glass for a well-earned two points.
Kentucky went up 57-55 with Harrellson’s perseverance and never trailed again.
What This Means:
The No. 4 Wildcats head to Newark on Friday night to face the winner of Ohio State-George Mason.
Saturday’s win marks the sixth straight year in which a John Calipari-led team advanced to the Sweet 16 (the longest active streak in college basketball).
To reach Dave Dulberg by email, click here.