Josh Harrellson knows West Virginia got the best of the Kentucky last year.
“They just pretty much beat us to everything,” Harrellson recalled Friday. “We really didn’t play the game we played all year. We really didn’t play well at all. They played the best game they could play, and got the win.”
The Mountaineers’ 73-66 victory over the Wildcats in the East Regional final last year propelled West Virginia into the Final Four and ended Kentucky’s memorable season and dashed the team's hopes of returning to the national semifinals for the first time in 12 seasons.
“It was devastating,” Kentucky junior DeAndre Liggins recalled. “They got easy layups, and we are not going to allow that this year.”
The Wildcats get a shot at revenge sooner rather than later against the Mountaineers Saturday in the third round of the NCAA Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
In order successfully redeem last year’s setback to Bob Huggins’ outfit, Harrellson said the Cats can’t afford a similar letdown to last year, which ended Kentucky’s season prematurely.
“We got down, and we didn’t get down much last year,” he said. “To be down that far in the tournament to a good team, we kind of panicked. We started forcing bad shots, and you really can’t do that in this tournament because it keeps going downhill from there.”
Even though it would be easy for the Cats to dwell on the events surrounding last year’s contest between the two teams, UK guard Darius Miller said the Cats aren’t dwelling on the loss.
“We are over it,” he said. “We just have to execute this year and knock down shots. We are totally different (teams). I think both teams are. We are not really looking at it like that, to be honest. We are just thinking of it as another game in the tournament. It is about surviving and advancing.”
Kentucky almost didn’t get a shot moving on to the third round following a close call in a 59-57 triumph over Princeton in the opening round Thursday. Liggins said the opener provided another learning experience for the Wildcats.
“We have to put teams away early, and not let teams have a chance,” he said. “Not to take anything away from Princeton, they are a good team, but we let them hang around and make it a close game in the end.”
Like Liggins, Miller wants to do his part to help the Cats advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
“I really want to do the best I can to help the team advance,” Miller said. “We all have the same goals and mindset, so I think we will be all right.”
Like last year, Kentucky expects West Virginia’s zone to be an issue, but is ready to counter the Mountaineers’ defensive scheme.
“Coach Cal has never really had a team that shot well against zones,” Harrellson said. “Once a team goes zone, it is hard for them to play the dribble-drive. This year we have a pretty good shooting team, so hopefully we can change the outcome this year.”
Although revenge against the Mountaineers would be sweet, Kentucky guard DeAndre Liggins isn’t fixated the revenge factor.
“It would be great, but it is just another game to us,” he said. “We want to advance and move on.”
Story by Keith Taylor