Another Big Blown Lead for WVU
MORGANTOWN — Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox enjoys quieting a hostile crowd on the road.
Knox scored a season-high 34 points and the Wildcats overcame a 17-point deficit after halftime to beat No. 7 West Virginia 83-76 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday night.
“I love atmospheres like this,” Knox said. “I love playing away games and going against people on the road. That was something that I loved growing up, when the other team starts yelling and all of the hype, the student section. All of that just gets me going. It’s just something I live for.”
Knox eclipsed his previous high of 25 points against Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 26.
The 6-foot-9 forward scored 19 points in the second half Saturday, when Kentucky (16-5) pulled together after looking disjointed earlier in the game.
After halftime, Kentucky made all 18 of its free throw attempts and outrebounded West Virginia 29-13 after the teams were even on the boards in the first half. The freshmen-laden Wildcats also limited their mistakes when it mattered, committing five second-half turnovers after turning it over 11 times in the first half.
“To be able to do that in this environment means we are growing up,” coach John Calipari said.
Behind senior guard Jevon Carter, West Virginia (16-5) dominated the first half and it appeared the Mountaineers might keep the momentum going. Then Knox got hot and his teammates joined in.
It marked the third time in five games that West Virginia has blown a double-digit lead in the second half.
“They took us out of some things,” coach Bob Huggins said. “We had some guys who are going to be heroes rather than team players. And the truth of the matter is they are just better than we are. They’re more talented.”
Sagaba Konate’s bank shot put West Virginia ahead 54-37 early in the second half but he missed much of the stretch run in foul trouble. Kentucky took advantage, getting more aggressive inside both with rebounds and scoring.
Knox scored 12 points during a 21-2 run, capped by his dunk with 10:39 left for a 58-56 lead.
West Virginia backup guard James “Beetle” Bolden, a Kentucky native who said he had been waiting for this opportunity to play his home-state school, hit a 3-pointer to tie the score at 74 with 1:23 left. But West Virginia didn’t make another basket.
Knox’s 3-pointer with 1:05 remaining put Kentucky ahead to stay. Nick Richards dunked off a rebound with 30 seconds left, and Quade Green and Wenyen Gabriel each sank two free throws after that to seal the win.
“A lot of people said we were having trouble finishing games,” Knox said. “But we knew that we were going to come back and win this game.”
Hamidou Diallo added 13 points for Kentucky. Jarred Vanderbilt, playing just his fourth game, had 11 rebounds.
Carter finished with 26 points. Bolden added 17 points and Konate had 13 points and seven blocked shots.
Kentucky: The Wildcats beat a ranked team for the first time this season and have won two straight since dropping out of the AP Top 25 last Monday for the first time since March 2014.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers have lost two straight and four of their last five games after being ranked No. 2 two weeks ago, their highest ranking since December 1959.
Carter and fellow senior guard Daxter Miles Jr. were freshmen in 2014-15 when West Virginia was pummeled by Kentucky 78-39 in the Midwest Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament in Cleveland. This time, Carter shot 3 of 10 after halftime while Miles finished with seven points overall on 2-of-8 shooting.
Kentucky could move back into the AP poll after a 2-0 week. West Virginia will likely tumble out of the Top 10.
Kentucky: Hosts Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
West Virginia: Plays at Iowa State on Wednesday. The Mountaineers have lost two straight Big 12 road games.