Earlier this week, many great arguments were made as to how and why West Virginia would beat Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. There was the Mountaineers’ press, there was their depth, there was their toughness – there were a lot of compelling reasons.
And then tip-off happened.
Yes, the Wildcats didn’t just embarrass West Virginia; they doubled them up, 78-39.
“Man, I’m not sure I’ve seen a team play better in an NCAA Tournament game,” Marquette head basketball coach Steve Wojciechowski said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “Obviously West Virginia has had a great year, and they made easy work of them.”
West Virginia fell behind 18-2 in the opening minutes, trailed by as many as 41 and didn’t break the 20-point mark until midway through the second half. Juwan Staten scored 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting against Kentucky; his teammates shot 8-of-41 (19.5 percent).
“Everybody is chasing Kentucky,” Wojciechowski said. “Over the course of the season, I don’t think there’s any question that they’ve been the best team. But again, with the NCAA Tournament, crazy things can happen. It’s not always the best team that wins; it’s the team that plays best on that night. As dominant as they looked against West Virginia, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success moving forward.”
True, but how do you beat Kentucky?
“I’m not sure anyone knows,” Wojciechowski said. “I think you have to try to control tempo. Obviously you have to have an amazing shooting night, which is next to near impossible against their defense. You can’t turn the ball over, and you have to hope they’re off their game. That’s a lot of different things that have to happen in order to win the ball game.”
For the last several months, the general consensus has been that Wisconsin has the best chance of taking down Kentucky. The Badgers beat North Carolina, 79-72, on Thursday, as Sam Dekker went off for 23 points and 10 rebounds. Dekker shot 9-of-10 from inside the arc, pirouetting into the paint play after play for pretty finishes.
“I thought Dekker was obviously the key in last night’s win,” Wojciechowski said. “(Frank) Kaminsky has had as good a year as probably anybody in college basketball, but I think you make a great point that the X-factor is Dekker. He’s a kid with NBA talent who has had moments where he looks like an NBA player – like last night. That’s what they’re going to need moving forward in order for them to win a national championship.”
If the Badgers survive No. 2 Arizona (34-3) in the Elite Eight on Saturday, they would likely face Kentucky – just like last year. In 2014, Wisconsin beat Arizona 64-63 in overtime in the Elite Eight and then lost to Kentucky 74-73 in the Final Four.
The Wildcats will be the favorites regardless of who they face.
“It’s hard to pick against Kentucky,” Wojciechowski said. “I don’t care who they’re playing. I know a lot has been made about (West Virginia guard) Daxter Miles and what he said (about beating Kentucky). They would have beaten West Virginia without that – although I do believe you want to let sleeping dogs lie.”