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Kentucky beats West Virginia 71-63 in third round of NCAA Tournament

TAMPA — Brandon Knight may become Kentucky's latest one-and-done freshman, but not before the Wildcats' shooting star blazes his own trail through the NCAA Tournament.

Two days after his only made basket beat the buzzer and Princeton, Knight scored a career-high 30 Saturday to lead Kentucky back to the round of 16 with a 71-63 win over fifth-seeded West Virginia.

After missing his first seven shots against Princeton before hitting the winner with two seconds left, Knight pulled the trigger early and often in the third-round game against the Mountaineers.

He made his first three shots, including two behind the 3-point arc, despite being admittedly anxious before the game.

"Definitely for me, I feel a lot more anxiety, especially coming into today's game, not playing so well (Thursday)," Knight said.

Knight not only atoned for that performance but also avenged the Wildcats' loss to West Virginia in the Elite Eight last year.

Fourth-seeded Kentucky (27-8) advanced to the East Region semifinals against either No. 1 seed Ohio State or eighth-seeded George Mason.

Knight helped the Wildcats crawl back into the game with an 11-0 run to start the second half and made six free throws down the stretch to preserve the win.

Center Josh Harrellson had 15 points and eight rebounds for Kentucky, which trailed West Virginia 41-33 at halftime.

Knight's performance, on the heels of his worst shooting game of the season in which he attempted a career-low eight field goals, did not surprise Kentucky coach John Calipari.

"He is a terrific player and an unbelievable person. … All the players I've coached, and I had guys that would live in the practice facility, literally, I've never seen a guy with this kid's work ethic," said Calipari, who had one-and-done freshmen such as Derrick Rose at the University of Memphis and John Wall at Kentucky, both No. 1 overall picks in the NBA.

"His focus is on where are my weak areas, and he goes after them. I've had a couple. One (Rose) is the MVP of the NBA. … Anytime you spend that kind of time, you expect good things to happen."

It was just the second win for Calipari over West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who owned an 8-1 advantage before Saturday's game.

Senior guard Joe Mazzulla led the Mountaineers with 20 points. But only five of those came after halftime when the Wildcats made a defensive switch by putting Deandre Liggins on him.

"We just got all balled up again," Huggins said. "When we stayed spread, we had a better chance. We just got — we didn't get wide enough. And when you start creeping in, your defense creeps in. … We just get swallowed up with size if we don't spread people."

Knight did not win Saturday's game alone. He got help from fellow freshman Terrence Jones, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

"There's a reason why everybody recruits those guys," Huggins said. "They're pretty good."

Much has been made of Kentucky's inexperience and particularly Calipari's reliance on freshmen who enter the NBA after only one season.

"I think things happen, an inexperienced team is at a disadvantage," Calipari said. "But if the choice is talent or experience, I'm taking talent. Then you can blame me for us not winning. But I'm taking talent."

Kentucky 71

W. Va. 63

Kentucky beats West Virginia 71-63 in third round of NCAA Tournament 03/19/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 19, 2011 8:30pm]
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