Friday March 27th, 2015

In the most thorough domination of the NCAA tournament this year—and the biggest Sweet 16 margin since 2009—Kentucky annihilated West Virginia 78-39 on Thursday night in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest Regional.

The game was out of hand almost as soon as it began. Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison and West Virginia’s Juwan Staten made jumpers within 15 seconds of each other to open the scoring, and then it was all Wildcats. The region's No. 1 seed and the nation's top-ranked team went on a 16-0 run and finished the first half leading 44-18.

West Virginia had no answers after halftime either, being outscored over the final 20 minutes 34-21. There were many startling facts about this game, but perhaps the most fascinating is that several Las Vegas casinos opened the line for Saturday's Kentucky-Notre Dame Elite Eight game with more than 10 minutes remaining in the second half of this game. The undefeated Wildcats had begun playing ball-control, clock-erasing offense with as much as 16 minutes left in the game, their 37th straight win long since decided.

Kentucky outplayed West Virginia in every aspect of the game. Borrowing from the old coaching rule to press a pressing team, John Calipari’s Wildcats put pressure on West Virginia early and often, forcing 13 turnovers for the game while coughing it up only 10 times themselves. Kentucky shot 48% from the floor while holding West Virginia to 24.1% and 13.3% from three. The Wildcats also outrebounded the Mountaineers 44-32 and attempted 13 more free throws, hitting 81.3% from the charity stripe compared to the Mountaineers’ 57.9% shooting there.

Because Kentucky had a 30-plus-point lead for much of the game, no player had an exceptional stat line. Forward Trey Lyles scored 14 points, while guards Andrew Harrison (13), Aaron Harrison (12) and center Dakari Johnson (12) all scored in double figures. Staten led the way for the Mountaineers with 14 points, but it took him 13 shots to get there.

In NCAA tournament history, no team seeded five or better has been beaten as badly as West Virginia. The next closest comparison was No. 3 Michigan’s 27-point win over No. 5 Virginia in the 1989 Southeast Regional Final.

The only scare Kentucky suffered was when starting guard Harrison was taken to the locker room with an apparent sprained ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand early in the second half. He came back out only moments later and re-entered the game.

As for West Virginia, it was a tough day for freshman Daxter Miles, who had guaranteed a win for his team over Kentucky. He finished 0 for 3 with no points, and the TV cameras caught him at a moment that summed up the game for himself and his entire team.

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