COLUMBUS, Ohio — West Virginia’s pressure defense overwhelmed Maryland Sunday night, moving the Mountaineers to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament and a game Thursday night in Cleveland against an unbeaten Kentucky team that’s overwhelmed just about everybody it has played.
The tournament’s No. 1 overall seed at 36-0, Kentucky will be heavily favored.
West Virginia says it will not be intimidated.
"They put their drawers on just like we put ours on," West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten said.
The equipment trucks for both teams will be loaded for travel on Tuesday.
After his team finished a 69-59 win over Maryland Sunday night, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said he got a call from Kentucky coach John Calipari three weeks ago during which Calipari predicted the tournament committee would place the Wildcats and Mountaineers on the same bracket. The teams played in the tournament in 2010 and 2011.
Huggins and Calipari are longtime friends and rivals. Huggins is 8-2 in his career vs. Calipari, but this Kentucky team might be Calipari’s best yet. It’s four wins from becoming the first 40-0 team in history and the first unbeaten men’s Div. I team since 1976.
"I wish I could sit here and tell you we’re definitely going to win the game," Huggins said. "I can’t do that, but I can tell you that we’re not going to be scared.
"Thirty-six people haven’t been ready (for Kentucky). I don’t know. I do know we’ll have fun trying."
West Virginia’s defense keys everything the Mountaineers do; they lead the nation in steals, steals per game and offensive rebounds. Kentucky might have the nation’s scariest defense with five athletic players who stand 6-foot-9 or taller and no starter shorter than 6-6.
West Virginia forced 23 Maryland turnovers, scored 26 points off of them and got 16 second-chance points Sunday. Huggins joked that Calipari "has probably been preparing already" for the West Virginia press and made sure to point out the Wildcats have an extra day to prepare after playing Saturday afternoon.
"I’m not doing any preparing tonight," Huggins said late Sunday evening. "I’m tired. I’m going to bed."
The Mountaineers and Wildcats play the late game — 9:45 p.m. — Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. The first Midwest regional semifinal is Notre Dame vs. Wichita State; then comes the main event.
"I mean, it’s not another game," Huggins said. "It’s the Sweet 16. It’s in the NCAA tournament and it’s one-and-done. So you can’t just say it’s another game. I just want our guys to make sure they know Cal’s going to have his team ready to go."