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Cauley-Stein embracing pressure of big stage

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Willie Cauley-Stein will play in the Elite Eight on Saturday after sitting out the final three games on UK's 2014 NCAA Tournament run. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein will play in the Elite Eight on Saturday after sitting out the final three games on UK's 2014 NCAA Tournament run. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
CLEVELAND -- Willie Cauley-Stein has talked many times over the last year about how difficult sitting on the bench for the latter half of Kentucky's magical tournament run was for him

On the eve of the Elite Eight, he revealed another facet to what it was like being relegated to spectator status.

"It was a weight off your shoulders though, knowing you're not going to have any impact on the game playing," Cauley-Stein said. "So that worry, that stress, you didn't have to endure that."

Unable to play due to a stress fracture in his ankle that knocked him out of UK's Sweet 16 matchup with Louisville and had him in plainclothes for the Elite Eight and Final Four, Cauley-Stein admits there was part of him that enjoyed just being along for the ride.

A year later, he has no such chance.

Cauley-Stein is the upperclassman leader and defensive anchor for top-seeded Kentucky as the Wildcats carry a 37-0 mark into an Elite Eight showdown with Notre Dame at 8:49 p.m. on Saturday. Night in and night out, the 7-foot junior draws the toughest defensive assignment and carries an ever-growing offensive load.

In short, whether UK makes its fourth Final Four trip under John Calipari will be up to Cauley-Stein as much as anyone. Different as it may be from last year, it's exactly where he wants to be.

"It feels good," Cauley-Stein said. "You just embrace it. You can't be scared of it. You can't be scared of the moment that we're in."

Whenever Cauley-Stein feels the fear, he needs only reflect on where he was two years ago.

Then, he had just seen his freshman season unceremoniously end in the first round of the NIT. After that loss at Robert Morris, Cauley-Stein said he was on a mission to render it a distant memory.

The mission continues.

"I feel like I'm on a mission," Cauley-Stein said. "I said that day after we lost, I have never won a championship before. I've never won anything, any crazy awards and I'm back to fill that spot in my heart, that emptiness. And crazy enough, it's happening. Never thought it would happen like this, but it's really happening. It's crazy to think that two years ago I was just talking. And now I'm living it, and it's sensational."

The crazy awards - national defensive player of the year, All America - are certainly coming and Cauley-Stein already has two conference titles under his belt, but the championship he really wants is three wins away. Third-seeded Notre Dame, which put on an offensive clinic in shooting 75 percent in the second half of an 81-70 Sweet 16 win over Wichita State, is the first hurdle.

The Fighting Irish (32-5), rated third nationally in offensive efficiency, will be the best offense UK has faced all season. Kentucky, of course, is first in defensive efficiency , pitting two of the best units in the game against one another.

"It's going to bring that competitiveness out," Cauley-Stein said. "But then it's also going to make you cautious. They got the reputation of being a really good offensive team. Well, we got the reputation of being a really good defensive team. ... It's just one of those things that you'll know when the ball gets thrown up whether you think you can play the guy or not."

For Cauley-Stein, the answer will surely be yes. The question, however, is who he'll actually guard.

Notre Dame has just one regular who stands taller than 6-foot-8 - 6-10 Zach Auguste - and often plays three 6-5 players at the same time. Almost all of them can shoot, with four players hitting 40 percent or better from 3-point range.

Not included in that group is star 6-5 point guard Jerian Grant, who averages a team-best 16.4 points per game and 6.7 assists. Could Cauley-Stein see time on him? Is sharpshooter and leading rebounder Pat Connaughton his more likely cover? Or what about any of the other five players averaging 6.4 points per game or more?

"We're going to get everybody's best, so them having five guys who can be a threat to us just opens up our defense," Cauley-Stein said. "It's going to put more pressure on our defense to play better and accept that challenge."

It's a challenge Cauley-Stein will be happy to accept considering he didn't have the choice a year ago.

"I think this means a lot to him," Karl-Anthony Towns said. "He didn't get to experience it last year, and who would have known what would have happened last year if he was playing. I know he has a chip on his shoulder because he wants to go out there and he wants to prove that we can win it."

That desire started long before he ever had to sit out during last year's NCAA Tournament.

"Playing in your backyard and you're thinking of these moments, taking a last-second shot and shooting maybe the last free throws of the game and if you make them then you win, if you miss you lose," Cauley-Stein said. "That's that pressure that you put on yourself all when you were growing up. This is it now. This is the time to put it together."

Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns

Aaron Harrison and Trey Lyles

Tyler Ulis and Dakari Johnson

Aaron Harrison returned after suffering a dislocated finger against West Virginia. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison returned after suffering a dislocated finger against West Virginia. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Metz Camfield from CoachCal.com contributed to this piece

CLEVELAND - There was still almost the entire second half to play, but the celebration was already on for Kentucky fans at Quicken Loans Arena en route to a 78-39 win over West Virginia.

The Wildcats (37-0) had built a lead of 29 points and appeared poised to coast through the final 16-plus minutes, until Aaron Harrison doubled over in pain. With 16:39 left, Harrison left the floor hunched over. The team trainer met him and draped a towel over his hand and the two hurried into the tunnel.

Fans watching at home reported his ring finger was bent grotesquely and for a brief moment those who had been jubilant just seconds prior pondered life without the clutch sophomore guard.

But seconds later, Harrison reemerged and rejoined his team on the bench. Minutes later, he checked back in.

"It's fine," Karl-Anthony Towns said. "He played. He went back in and played so he's good."

Officially, Harrison's injury was a dislocated finger. He didn't even allow the trainer to pop it back into place for him.

"I had no choice," Harrison said. "I just felt like I needed to get it back, so I just pulled it."

Treating an injury himself only figures to add to Harrison's still-growing NCAA Tournament legend, a legend he says he will most certainly be looking to add to come Saturday at 8:49 p.m. against Notre Dame.  

"I'm playing Saturday," said Harrison, who scored 10 of his 12 points in a barrage to start Thursday's blowout win.

Making that easier is the fact that the injury is to his non-shooting hand. When Harrison checked back in his finger was heavily taped and he had direct orders not to drive to the basket. John Calipari just wanted him to get a live shot or two under his belt to build his comfort level.

"I mean it was different to have something on my left hand when I tried to shoot it, but I'll figure a way out," Harrison said. "I'm definitely playing Saturday."

When Harrison checked out for the final time against West Virginia with eight minutes left, Calipari extended his hand to give a high-five. Harrison went across his body to oblige with his right hand, saving his left the trouble.

He also had a couple quick words for his coach.

"I just told him, 'I can still shoot, Coach,' " Harrison said. " 'So I'm good.' "

Andrew Harrison's and-one highlights UK's demolition

The game was over. In fact, it had been over for quite some time. But the highlights weren't and Andrew Harrison still had one play he wanted to perform.

With 6:20 left in the game, the sophomore point guard got his opportunity and didn't disappoint.

Leading 67-32, Harrison read West Virginia's Jevon Carter and picked off his pass intended for Juwan Staten. Harrison raced down the right side of the floor before Carter ran in front of him. That's when things turned silly.

"That was crazy," Tyler Ulis said. "It shows you what type of night we were having."

The type of night UK was having was one where Harrison was able to put the ball behind his back without bouncing it, reminiscent of another former Kentucky point guard in John Wall, and then throw the ball up backwards as he fell to the ground as he was being fouled.

Of course the ball then banked high off the backboard and into the hoop. New score: Kentucky 69, West Virginia 32. Andrew Harrison 1, Sanity 0.

"That's gonna be a top-10 play," Ulis said.

Harrison could only smile from ear to ear as he bounced up immediately after the play and was swarmed by his teammates.

In the grand scheme of things, it was just a three-point play - after the made free throw - that put the Cats up by 38 points with 6:20 remaining, but it was one that caught the attention of the Cats' leader in highlight reel plays, Willie Cauley-Stein, who said Harrison had called the play earlier in the game.

"Crazy," Cauley-Stein said. "He called it. We were sitting on the bench and he was like, 'I should have went behind the back on that,' and I was like, 'Yeah, bro. Do it next time.' He kind of sat there and I'm like, 'Nah, he's not gonna do it.' I was just talking him into it, 'Yeah, bro, do it.' Dude does it! I'm like, 'Dude!' And made the layup. That was crazy. I stopped. I stopped at half court. I thought it was going to be a foul or he was going to miss it, but he ended up making it. I was like, 'This dude really called that shot.' "

But was it a better play than some of Cauley-Stein's dunks, including his poster vs. Cincinnati in the Round of 32?

"Probably more acrobatic," Cauley-Stein said.

Booker finds his stroke

Nitpickers needed only look as far as Devin Booker to find a flaw with UK's postseason run.

The freshman sharpshooter had gone cold in March, hitting a combined 10 of 30 from the field and 3 of 16 from 3 in tournament play. Even though Kentucky had cruised to double digit wins in all five of those outings, Booker would need to find his form for the Cats to hit their peak.

He did just that Thursday night.

"He had to tighten it up," Calipari said. "He got a little loose with his shot, and when you do that and you start missing, it goes the other way on you fast, but I thought today he was terrific."

Booker scored 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including a perfect 3 of 3 in the first half. He also hit a pair of 3-pointers before halftime for his first makes from outside the arc in the NCAA Tournament. In spite of the cold spell, his teammates never lost confidence in him.

"We've seen that all the time," Towns said. "We're used to seeing that. Anytime he shoots it, we think it's going in. It's nothing new to us."

It's that confidence that has helped carry Booker through.

"This team helped me throughout my slump that I was in," Booker said. "They told me to keep shooting. Once I see one go down, the rest will fall. It's just been a lot of hard work and a lot of confidence that my team's given me and it just ended up falling tonight."

Towns sits down, Johnson steps up

Towns has made a late-season push into contention for the top spot in many projections of this summer's NBA Draft. He's become a go-to guy for Kentucky in the process, delivering big baskets when the Cats need them most.

Considering that, you'd think Towns' one-point, two-rebound, 13-minute line on Thursday night might spell trouble for the top seed in the Midwest Region.

This, however, is not your normal team.

As soon as Towns sat down with foul trouble, Dakari Johnson stepped up.

"That's something he always can do," Towns said. "It's a blessing to have people like him on our team. No matter what happens, there's no bench on our team. Just reinforcements."

Johnson might not have seemed on paper to be suited to play against high-pressure, up-tempo West Virginia, but the 7-foot sophomore carved out a role for himself in his 24 minutes - the most he's played in two months - and plenty of space. Johnson finished with 12 points, six rebounds and three blocks.

"What Dakari did was like, wow, you could play without Karl. Well, Dakari was really good today."

Teammate-on-teammate crime

Like the rest of his teammates, Marcus Lee was locked in.

Facing West Virginia's press, Lee saw his man was leaving an opening for a drive to the basket and a lob pass, so he told Tyler Ulis about it. Seeing the situation play out just as Lee said it would, Ulis fed Lee perfectly for a dunk that gave the Wildcats their final points in a game-opening 18-2 run.

The only problem was no one told Booker about it.

"Only me and Tyler kind of knew what was happening so Devin still made that cut-through," Lee said. "We kind of ran into each other and didn't realize what was happening."

Poster dunks have become a common occurrence for this Kentucky team, but not with fellow Cats as the victims. Lee and Booker still had no trouble enjoying it afterward.

"We laughed about it," Lee said. "We were looking at pictures and videos about it after the game."

UK tied a Sweet 16 record for scoring margin with a 78-39 win over West Virginia on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK tied a Sweet 16 record for scoring margin with a 78-39 win over West Virginia on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
CLEVELAND - On Oct. 17 UK head coach John Calipari stood before a rowdy crowd of UK fans and spoke four simple words before dropping the mic at Big Blue Madness.

"Enough talking, let's ball!" he said.

Over five months later, those same four words would have been quite applicable.

After Wednesday's media opportunities, many of the stories centered on Mountaineers' freshman guard Daxter Miles Jr.'s comments in which he said the Cats would be 36-1 and that he didn't think they played hard.

Instead of biting at the bait, UK simply listened, and on Thursday night the Mountaineers heard plenty as the top-seeded Wildcats put together as impressive a performance as they've had all season in doubling up West Virginia 78-39 to advance to the Elite Eight.

"I was really pleased with the energy of our team," Coach Cal said. "I was pleased with how zoned in they were."

Oh, there was no need to worry about the Cats being zoned in for this game.

They say to never poke a sleeping bear. In spite of the difference in species, the same concept applies to this group of Wildcats. When they hear chatter, they may stay quiet, but they listen and they remember. After Thursday's win in which UK (37-0) became the first team in Sweet 16 history to double up its opponent, a lot of folks will remember.

"I don't know why they would do that at all," sophomore guard Aaron Harrison said, who hit each of his first four shots in the game. "I guess they woke us up.

"We were super motivated. ... That (talk) was fuel to the fire. And we just wanted to go out there and make a statement to them and the rest of the country."

Mission accomplished.

It wasn't the first time a team has chosen to talk a bit of trash to Kentucky before facing the undefeated squad though. Arkansas twice talked to Kentucky this season. The end results were a 17-point victory at Rupp Arena in which the Cats once led by 31, and a 15-point victory in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in which the Cats had led by 21. UK never trailed in any of the three games, including Thursday's romp.

"I think you could probably sneak up on us if you didn't talk anything before," junior forward Willie Cauley-Stein said.

Which brings up the season-long question yet again: How do you beat Kentucky? Perhaps a start is to not say anything whatsoever to the Cats prior to tipoff.

"If they didn't do that you're probably just going to coast into the game and not really be focused on it," Cauley-Stein said. "You're just going to let it come to you. But when you hear that type of stuff you're focused for the whole preparation. All the hard practices you're thinking of that type of stuff. That's what gets you going, especially this team. We have a bunch of competitive dudes so you hear that type of stuff and you're like, 'Nah, we have to show them who they are and what they are.' "

One of the strategies thrown out by many, and predicted by some in the media to be successful, was West Virginia's press. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the famed "Press Virginia" appeared to look more stressed with UK scoring quickly and easily (UK shot 60.9 percent in the first half).

And again, the doubt of how Kentucky's guards would handle the WVU press was another source of motivation for Aaron Harrison and others.

"We consider ourselves the best guards in the country and for a team to say they can press us and we won't be able to pass the ball and things like that, we thought that was really dumb and ridiculous," Aaron Harrison said.

"I hope not," Cauley-Stein said when asked if he thinks this will put to rest the notion that UK struggles when facing the press. "I hope teams continue to press us."

The Cats used the Mountaineers' talk not only in the game, but in their preparation as well.

"I knew it was going to be like this," Ulis said. "We've been talking about it all day."

The Cats scored 18 of the game's first 20 points and held the Mountaineers scoreless for nearly seven minutes as West Virginia didn't connect on its second field goal of the game until eight minutes and 42 seconds had elapsed. By halftime, UK led 44-18, marking the lowest point total by the Mountaineers all season.

Instead of easing its foot off the gas - or throat, as UK referred to it - Kentucky remained focused and only added to its record-breaking performance in the second half by not allowing a West Virginia field goal for the opening 8:18.

"That was up there with like the Kansas game and the UCLA game where we came out and tried to put our foot on their throat and just keep going," freshman guard Tyler Ulis said.

But was it the most impressive performance of the season? Cauley-Stein said it may still be too early to say.

"Could be," said Cauley-Stein, who finished with eight points, 10 rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal. "I mean, we still have some games left."

UK moved into the Elite Eight with a 78-39 win over West Virginia on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK moved into the Elite Eight with a 78-39 win over West Virginia on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
CLEVELAND - The talk was everywhere.

The words coming out of the Mountaineer locker room made into every story previewing Kentucky and West Virginia's matchup. Daxter Miles Jr.'s guarantee that West Virginia would hand the Cats their first loss even made SportsCenter.

The Cats, meanwhile, responded with the equivalent of a silent head nod.

Andrew Harrison broke out his trademark dry sense of humor. Karl-Anthony Towns said everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Willie Cauley-Stein had the most dramatic reaction, but even he would only say the comments added "fuel to the fire."

The Cats, no doubt, preferred to let their play do the talking.

And their play talked plenty loud Thursday night.

"We've been talking about it all day," Tyler Ulis said. "Coming out and just demolishing them 'cause they were talking so much trash saying we were gonna be 36-1 and stuff like that. We felt like that was nonsense, so we just came out and killed 'em."

In a season full of devastating performances, the Cats delivered one of their best yet on the biggest stage yet. With a 78-39 destruction of the Mountaineers, UK moved to 37-0 and into the Elite Eight, and tied an NCAA Tournament record for the largest margin of victory in a Sweet 16 game.

"I was really pleased with the energy of our team," John Calipari said. "I was pleased with how zoned in they were, with how we were going to attack the press, how we were going to finish and we were going to just, hey, if we could score a hundred, score a hundred, just play."

For a while, the Cats seemed like they might threaten the century mark.

Within the first eight minutes, UK built an 18-2 lead. Aaron Harrison, scoring 10 points, chased away any worries about outside shooting woes lingering from last week's win over Cincinnati or Kentucky's 2010 Elite Eight loss to West Virginia by burying a pair of 3-pointers.

Harrison would finish with just 12 points and briefly departed with a dislocated finger, but the tone was set and West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins' fears realized.

"Well, I think pretty much what I was afraid could happen," Huggins said. "They shot the ball really poorly the last game, and they're too good to have probably back-to-back bad days shooting the ball, and they came out and made a bunch of shots."

Rendering West Virginia's full-court pressure wholly ineffective, UK committed just 10 turnovers for the game and shot a scalding 60.9 percent from the field in building an insurmountable 44-18 lead.

The Mountaineers, meanwhile, were flummoxed on offense. They shot 24.1 percent from the field for the game and at one point had made just 5-of-37 attempts. All told, they managed just 0.582 points per possession and their 39 points were a season low. UK, meanwhile, blocked seven shots.

"I feel like on some of their rebounds they try to go back up with it and they had three dudes blocking their shot," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "That kind of gets to you like, 'Dang, I can't even get a rebound and a layup. I have three dudes with their hands on the ball.' "

UK added seven steals, snagging a few in using a full-court press that actually one-upped the Mountaineers'. The Cats had a turnover margin of plus-three.

"An old friend of mine says you press a pressing team, you press a pressing team," Calipari said. "And that's why we put in the diamond press and that's why we did some of the stuff we did, just to press them to go like you're not going to be the aggressor; we're going to be the aggressor, too."

UK has always had the press in its arsenal, but overall excellence has been its defensive calling card all season. Huggins, to put it mildly, has noticed.

"They're just -- they're terrific defensively," Huggins said. "They've got -- that's the best defensive team I think that I've ever coached against."

The Cats' offense might not be good on a historical level in the way their defense is, but it's not too shabby either.

"I thought they were the best offensive team in the country," Huggins said. "Everybody kind of gets caught up in their size and all that, which is certainly a part of it, but to get those guys to play as hard and to play together the way they do, I mean, you look down there, you've got guys that, you know, are going to be lottery picks that they give the ball up, they share the ball."

Six players combined for UK's 13 assists on 24 made field goals, while more good passes helped lead to the Cats' 31 free-throw attempts, of which they hit 26. Trey Lyles hit 6-of-7 tries from the line in pacing UK with 14 points, while Andrew Harrison scored nine of his 13 points at the line. Two of the remaining four came on the highlight of the night, a dizzying behind-the-back and-one finish in the open floor destined for highlight reels.

"That was smooth," Karl-Anthony Towns said. "I've never seen something like that before, especially on a stage like this. That just shows you how loose we are."

Towns might have been a little too loose, picking up two fouls in eight first-half minutes and his third and fourth within the first minute of the second half. Talked about as the possible top pick in June's NBA Draft, Towns managed just one point and two rebounds.

Imagine, then, what Thursday's performance looks like with Towns performing at his peak.

"We still gotta work on a lot of things," Towns said. "This team, just because we came out and had a great win today doesn't mean that we're at full capability and working on all cylinders."

UK will take its next shot at reaching its peak on Saturday at 8:49 p.m. against third-seeded Notre Dame, which dispatched Wichita State with a near-perfect second-half offensive effort.

"We just have to come out the same way, with the same intensity knowing that they're going to try to shoot a lot of 3s on us, they're going to try to win it at the 3-point line, but that's been the same way all year round," Cauley-Stein said. "Teams have to shoot well at the 3, so our game plan is just going to guard them at the 3, make sure they make half the 3s they made tonight. Just play with a lot of intensity because it's a big deal."

Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns

Tyler Ulis and Aaron Harrison

Video: Highlights vs. West Virginia

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Willie Cauley-Stein and Kentucky will take on West Virginia on Thursday night in the Sweet 16. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein and Kentucky will take on West Virginia on Thursday night in the Sweet 16. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
CLEVELAND -- Kentucky vs. West Virginia. Calipari vs. Huggins. Size vs. full-court press.

Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup between the Wildcats and Mountaineers had plenty of storylines to begin with. Then West Virginia's locker room opened to the media.

"I give them their props," West Virginia's Daxter Miles told Brett Dawson of CatsIllustrated.com. "Salute them to getting to 36-0. But tomorrow they're gonna be 36-1."

The chatter would continue, with Miles - a freshman guard - not only saying "nobody is invincible," but also saying "they don't play that hard" of the Wildcats ahead of a Sweet 16 matchup. The top-seeded Cats (36-0) weren't there to hear it, but they surely heard about it soon after when their own locker room opened.

Karl-Anthony Towns mostly nodded quietly.

"I mean, everyone has an opinion," Towns said. "Just take it as you get, I guess. We've always been criticized for everything. So it's OK."

Willie Cauley-Stein, meanwhile, had a bit more vocal reaction. The player most agree to be the best defender in the country, known for his tireless energy in guarding post players and wing players alike, wasn't so sure about the play-hard critique.

"You've never even watched us play in person or you've never even watched us play people that are supposed to beat you and you end up beating them by 30, 40 points," Cauley-Stein said. "But we don't play hard? I mean--If you're playing against teams like UCLA, Kansas, that are good teams and you're able to do what we did to them without playing hard, imagine what we do playing hard. That's kind of my mentality."

Cauley-Stein has a point there.

UK has steamrolled through 36 games this season without a loss, staying atop the polls throughout and winning games by an NCAA-leading margin of 20.8 points per game. The Cats have won all five of their postseason games by double digits to boot, leading some to wonder why the Mountaineers would poke the bear that is Kentucky with anything other than respectful, boilerplate quotes.

Cauley-Stein knows better. He also doesn't mind.

"No, I expect them to say stuff like that," Cauley-Stein said. "I don't necessarily know a team that at this point wouldn't say something like that. That's good. Adds fuel to the fire. Puts a little personal stuff into it. It's all good stuff."

With an Elite Eight berth going to the winner, the stakes were already high enough, said Cauley-Stein. Now the Cats have something more to play for than just a win. Pride's on the line.

"Now I'm kind of juiced," Cauley-Stein said. "This game is going to be really fun. They made it kind of personal now."

The game, based on West Virginia's physical full-court defense and Kentucky's proven ability to deal with such a style, was already plenty compelling. With a little friendly back and forth added to the mix, CBS becomes the place to be at 9:45 p.m. on Thursday.

"It's just going to be one of them games, that I'm telling you, if you want to watch a good game, you're going to want to watch this game because dudes is lit," Cauley-Stein said. "Dudes is really ready to play."

Excited as the Cats might be to have a little fuel added to the fire, one thing is noticeably absent from any of their responses to questions about West Virginia's pregame predictions.

Trash talk of their own.

"We don't worry about that," Towns said. "You know what's the thing? It's usually always the people that are the best that say the least."

The Cats are happy to let their play speak for itself.

UK will face West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in six years on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK will face West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in six years on Thursday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
CLEVELAND -- It may seem just like yesterday for some Big Blue faithful.

Kentucky was riding high, a No. 1 seed in the East Regional Finals looking to make it back to the Final Four for the first time since 1998. The only team standing in the way was the No. 2 seed in that region, West Virginia.

Played in a cold, wet and dreary Syracuse, N.Y., the Wildcats missed their first 20 3s against the Mountaineers, finishing just 4 of 32, and lost 73-66.

"To even be in the game 0-20, I must have had a hell of a team, which I did," UK head coach John Calipari said Wednesday.

Asked if he could take any lessons from that 2010 game, Huggins replied nonchalantly.

"If Cal promises to miss his first 20 3s like they did in 2010 that would help," he said, "if we could get him to do that."

On Thursday, Kentucky, again the No. 1 seed, will face fifth-seeded West Virginia for the third time in the last six NCAA Tournaments. While no member of either 2010 team is still playing, both schools' players have been reminded of the game.

West Virginia, being the victors that day, naturally have used the history lesson as a sense of pride and motivation.

"That's all we've been hearing all week, is the team that beat that team in 2010, but the reality is we play two different styles," West Virginia senior guard Juwan Staten said. "That team had a lot of size and they played a slower down game. But we're going to be in your face and we're going to be pressing. Ultimately that doesn't mean anything but it gives us a lot of motivation and a lot of confidence."

To put things in perspective, Harrison was just a freshman in high school at the time that game was played. UK's current freshman class was in its second semester of eight grade, preparing for the upcoming rigors of high school, and Devin Booker was just 13 years old.

Asked about it Wednesday, the Wildcats paid no mind to the game, pointing out that it was a different team entirely.

"I was probably playing basketball somewhere or doing something else while they were playing," Trey Lyles said.

"I know we didn't shoot the ball well, but other than that, that's all I really know," Aaron Harrison said about the game. "I liked DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall. I was a fan."

One current Wildcat who was watching the game was freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns, only he was watching the Mountaineers more than the Wildcats.

"I was watching," Towns said. "Close friend of mine played for West Virginia, too. Da'Sean Butler."

Even still, with both rosters being entirely different, styles of play having changed, and much more, members of the Big Blue Nation remember the game all too well. On Coach Cal's weekly call-in show Monday, he was asked about the 2010 game before he could remind the caller that the Cats won one year later - and more recently - in the tournament.

Sometimes it's the most painful memories that linger, but the fact that the fans do remember that game and have reminded the players about it comes as no surprise to Lyles.

"I wouldn't say it surprises me, knowing Big Blue Nation and how they love basketball and stuff like that," Lyles said. "Every team was their best team so of course they're going to hold onto something like that and they just want us to beat a team, revenge them I guess."

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  • Carla Blair: God is good! Be grateful for this experience. And this opportunity. read more
  • Bobby Dick: Always remember young man its not what you take its what you leave behind i pray to God you guys read more
  • Trublususu: I can't imagine what you guys are experiencing. Sounds like your first day was memorable. That woman will remember you read more
  • BJ Rassam: It's a good solid win for the 'Cats. read more
  • Robert L Jones Jr: I just want to say that I think coach Mitchell did a grate job explain what has happened to one read more
  • big d: very well said MR BARNHART SO PROUD OF THOSE YOUNG MEN. AND TO CALL MYSELF A BIG BLUE FAN AND read more
  • Guy Ramsey: We apologize, but we had some issues with the video on YouTube. Try watching it here now: http://www.ukathletics.com/blog/2015/05/video-catspys-senior-tribute.html. read more
  • Disappointed Fan: Why isn't the Senior Tribute Video posted? It's sad you aren't honoring your senior athletes, but you can post a read more