Darius Miller is ready for the next step.
Miller and the Wildcats will take on Ohio State Friday night in the Sweet 16 after disposing of West Virginia in the third round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday. The top-seeded Buckeyes advanced to the East region semifinals following a 98-66 rout of Cinderella candidate George Mason Sunday.
Kentucky held on to beat Princeton in its tournament opener, before avenging last year’s lost to West Virginia Saturday to earn a second straight trip to the Sweet 16. It was a big step for the Wildcats, one of two teams from the Southeastern Conference still dancing following the first weekend of the prestigious tournament.
Kentucky also proved it could hang with a physical opponent and not back down, especially in the second half with the game hanging in the balance.
“We have definitely grown as a team and have come a long way, so I don’t know (if we could have won this game a month ago),” Miller said. “It would have been a lot tougher if it was a month ago.”
In addition to proving it could match a physical opponent, the Wildcats recovered from an eight-point deficit at the half pulled together in the second half.
“We just stayed focused really,” Miller said. “We all talked about staying focused on what we needed to do. We had a game plan, and wanted to stick with it.”
Part of that game plan, Miller said, involved keeping the Mountaineers off the glass.
“Most of the time we just wanted to keep them off the boards,” he said. “They are a really good rebounding team, and they still rebounded pretty well against us.”
Earlier in the season, Kentucky coach John Calipari questioned his team’s toughness, but patted the Cats on the back following the performance against West Virginia.
“We have come a long way,” he said. “(Coach) Calipari actually called us tough today after them game, and that’s a big step for us.”
Miller, who connected on a clutch 3-pointer own the stretch in the win over the Mountaineers, added that he also was glad to avenge last year’s disappointing loss, but more excited about staying alive in the tournament.
“It just feels good to advance, really,” he said.
Kentucky hasn’t played the Buckeyes since 1997 when the Wildcats dealt Ohio State an 81-65 setback in the Rock-n-
Roll Shootout at Gund Arena. … The two teams last played each other in the NCAA Tournament in 1987, with the Buckeyes defeating the Cats 91-77 in the opening round of the Big Dance at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia. … Kentucky has won four of the last five meetings between the two border rivals. … The game against West Virginia was Kentucky’s seventh tournament contest in Tampa, with the Wildcats now having an overall record of 6-1 in those games. Previously, the Cats had previously played twice in St. Petersburg (1994 and 1998), with a 3-1 mark and once in Tampa (1983), which was a win over Ohio University.
Story by Keith Taylor