CRAWFORD | Hard Knox: Kentucky bullies the bully, upsets No. 7 WVU 83-76
After taking a couple of punches early, Kentucky threw the best counterpunches late in an upset win at No. 7 West Virginia.
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. (WDRB) – This was the kind of game, as they often are against Bob Huggins-coached teams, that challenge your manhood. Kentucky coach John Calipari sent his own message before the game started – he wore the same kind of pullover sweatshirt that Huggins coaches in.
Kentucky won this battle of the blue-collar millionaires, 83-76. The home team began the game as Press Virginia. It ended as Depressed Virginia. And Kevin Knox walked out as the toughest guy on the court.
No. 7-ranked WVU stole Kentucky’s first possession and Sagaba Konante dunked the ball on the other end, just to set the tone. Press Virginia wreaked havoc on the young Wildcats in the first half. UK turned it over 11 times. And even after climbing out of a couple of holes, seemed to shrink from Challenge as WVU’s Javon Carter put up 18 first-half points.
WVU outmuscled Kentucky for loose balls. It talked trash after made baskets. The Mountaineers flexed after a few rebounds and blocked dunks. After one blocked dunk resulted in a foul, Konante made a show of staring at the replay and admiring his work.
If you were going to keep from being embarrassed in this one, you needed some Alpha males. Knox raised his hand. He did some talking of his own after heating up for 13 early second-half points. A Knox layup with 11:22 left completed a 21-2 run and erased a 17-point deficit. And he let WVU hear about it. As did Hamiou Diallo after a second-half three.
Now it was WVU that started settling for jumpers, and Kentucky that was aggressively muscling the ball to the basket.
If you watched closely, you could see a team growing up before your eyes.
This was exactly the kind of Type-A performance Kentucky has been looking for all season. When it needed a go-to player the most, as a 10-point underdog with an 18-point deficit against a Top-10 opponent in a rabid road environment, Knox reported for duty.
After taking WVU’s best punch, he loaded up, scored 15-points during a 21-2 run in the second half, then kept it coming. At the under-4 timeout, I watched him come to the huddle after a workmanlike UK possession in which it bullied West Virginia with two offensive rebounds, the second by Knox, his seventh rebound of the game.
He came to the bench, being banged around by teammates. He sat in his chair looking like a fighter resting before the 10th round. He took out his mouthpiece. Teammates rubbed his shoulders.
After WVU rallied to tie the game again, on a James Bolden three with 1:25 left, Knox pulled another dagger out of his belt, drilling a three of his own -- his fifth of the game -- just 16 seconds later. Kentucky was up three, and after a WVU missed free throw and a Nick Richards follow slam, the lead was five with 32 seconds left. After another WVU miss led to a loose ball, it was Kentucky swarming and coming up ready to fight when the teams were jawing.
When the final bell rang, Knox had 34 points on 11 of 17 shooting.
This, simply, is the player folks thought Knox could be. Now, it’s the player Calipari hopes he stays. Maybe it took a trip to Morgantown the kind of physical challenge WVU presents to bring it out. And he wasn't the only one.
Whatever the case, Kentucky’s entire team got tougher in this game, and not just physically. It’s not easy to come back from an 18-point deficit in this environment. It’s not easy to win in this environment, period.
Kentucky demolished WVU on the boards, 49-33, including an unheard of 29-12 in the second half.
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