Cleveland, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Sweet 16 action will close out in the Midwest Region on Thursday night, as undefeated and top-seeded Kentucky takes on fifth-seeded West Virginia at Quicken Loans Arena.
The winner of this game will move into the Elite Eight this weekend against either Notre Dame or Wichita State.
John Calipari's Wildcats remain the only unbeaten team in the country. The top team in the nation has posted tournament wins over Hampton (79-56) and Cincinnati (64-51) to move to 36-0 on the season. It marks the first time in college basketball history that a team has started 36-0. Kentucky, which is taking part in its 45th Sweet 16, has advanced to the Elite Eight 34 times.
Bob Huggins was named the Big 12 Coach of the Year, leading his Mountaineers to 23 victories prior to the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia has picked up two more to add to the total with earlier round wins over Buffalo (68-62) and Maryland (69-59). This is the 26th appearance in the NCAA Tournament for West Virginia, which holds a 27-25 record in the event. The Mountaineers have advanced to the Sweet 16 in six of their last nine NCAA Tournament appearances.
Kentucky holds a 14-5 advantage in the series with West Virginia thanks to wins in eight of the last nine meetings. The last matchup took place in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, a 71-63 UK victory in the third round.
Taking advantage of opportunities is how West Virginia has thrived this season. The team leads the nation in steals (372) and steals per game (10.9), while boasting of a remarkable +6.7 turnover margin. Two-time All-Big 12 First-Team member Juwan Staten is the leader. The veteran paces the team in both scoring (14.2 ppg) and assists (4.8 apg). Sophomore forward Devin Williams is the team's top option up front, netting 11.6 ppg, while grabbing a team-best 8.2 rpg. Freshman guards Jevon Carter (8.2 ppg) and Daxter Miles Jr. (7.5 ppg), as well as junior forward Jonathan Holton (7.6 ppg) provide some depth. Miles has really elevated his game of late, averaging 13.4 ppg over his last seven outings.
It was West Virginia's full-court pressure that proved to be too much for Maryland last weekend. The Mountaineers forced the Terrapins into 23 turnovers, including amassing 15 steals in the 10-point victory. Williams led the charge with a double-double consisting of 16 points and 10 rebounds. Gary Browne added 14 points to the cause for West Virginia, which also received 12 points apiece from Miles and Holton. The team as a whole stepped up in lieu of Staten's rough outing, as he managed just six points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Kentucky has shown at times to be a potent offensive squad, but more often than not, it has been stifling defensive play that has separated the Wildcats from the competition. UK leads the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.351), ranks second in blocked shots (248) and third in scoring defense (53.9 ppg). The strong defense is anchored by a pair of All-SEC First-Team selection in junior Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. Cauley-Stein (9.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 60 blocks, 45 steals) earned All-America accolades this season and was tabbed the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Towns (10.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 86 blocks) was named the National Freshman of the Year. Guards Aaron Harrison (11.1 ppg) and Devin Booker (10.1 ppg) provide perimeter balance.
The Wildcats shot just .370 from the floor against the Bearcats over the weekend, but it wasn't a factor since they held Cincinnati to a worse .317 effort, that included a mere 2-of-14 from behind the arc. In addition, UK outscored Cincy 20-9 at the free-throw line. Aaron Harrison topped the team with 13 points. Trey Lyles notched a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Towns and Cauley-Stein combined for 17 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.