MORGANTOWN-Gone are the primary architects of last year's 73-66 victory over Kentucky in the NCAA's Elite Eight.
But West Virginia fans should not despair as their No. 22 Mountaineers (21-11) take on the Wildcats (26-8) in a third round NCAA Tournament game at 12:15 p.m. today at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
No. 5 seed WVU, an 84-76 winner over No. 12 Clemson on Thursday, will be without the services of Da'Sean Butler, who tallied a team-high 18 points in last year's epic win, as well as Devin Ebanks and Wellington Smith, who scored 12 and 7 points, respectively.
But, a quick glance to the other side of the benches will find Kentucky head coach John Calipari taking on a Mountaineer team without the comfort of having freshmen phenoms John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
Kentucky is coming off of a last-second 59-57 victory over No. 13 Princeton and Calipari understands the task ahead for his Wildcats.
"Coach (Bobby) Huggins is an excellent coach and I am sure he will have his team prepared for us," Calipari said following his team's victory. "We are going to have to come out and play much better if we want to advance to the next round."
WVU Game Time
- ?Who: No. 5 West Virginia (21-11)
vs. No. 4 Kentucky (26-8)
- ?What: Third round East Regional game
- ?When: 12:15 p.m. to??day
- ?Where: Tampa, Fla.
12:15 p.m. - West Virginia vs. Kentucky
2:45 p.m. -UCLA vs. Florida
5:15 p.m. - Morehead State vs. Richmond
7:45 p.m. - Gonzaga vs. BYU
6:10 p.m. - Temple vs. San Diego State
8:40 p.m. - Kansas State vs. Wisconsin
7:10 p.m. Butler vs. Pittsburgh
9:40 p.m. - Cincinnati vs. Connecticut
Kentucky led by four, 57-53, with under two minutes remaining to play until a pair of buckets by the Tigers, the final one coming with 38 ticks left on the clock, knotted the game at 57.
After a timeout, the Wildcats ran the clock down to inside five seconds when Brandon Knight drove to the basket and hit the game-winning shot with two seconds showing to go. A last-second heave by the Tigers came up well short and Kentucky fans were able to breathe a sigh of relief.
That is until they realized that Saturday's opponent would be a team coached by Huggins, who owns an 8-1 mark in nine previous meetings with Calipari.
West Virginia's first round win wasn't nearly as dramatic, but the Mountaineers did have to overcome a 10-point deficit en route to dispatching the Atlantic Coast Conference's Tigers.
Darryl Bryant led five players in double figures for WVU with 19 points. Kevin Jones chipped in with 17 points and nine rebounds while Joe Mazzulla added 12, Deniz Kilicli 11 and Dalton Pepper 10.
"When was the last time we've had five players score in double figures?" Huggins said after the game. "I don't think we have done that this season and we are going to have to continue that kind of balance if we want to continue playing."
WVU never trailed after Jones' triple right before the halftime buzzer knotted the game at 40 at the intermission. The Mountaineers, who have struggled at times with their offensive consistency, put together a 27-5 run after falling behind by 10, 37-27, with 3:15 left in the first half.
Clemson (22-12) was able to pull to within three, 74-71, on a pair of free throws by Tanner Smith with 1:49 left in the game. But, a pair of Mazzulla free throws and a trio of steals by Pepper-two resulting in layups by the sophomore-ended any hope of a comeback by the Tigers and sent WVU to the next round for the second year in a row.
The Mountaineers will face a Kentucky team that starts three guards-Darius Miller (11.4 ppg), Brandon Knight (17.0) and Doron Lamb (12.8)-with Terrence Jones (16.3, 8.7 rpg) and Josh Harrellson (7.0) at the forwards. Also look for DeAndre Liggins (8.6) and Eloy Vargas (1.6) to see action.
Huggins will counter with his normal lineup of Bryant (10.9 ppg) and Mazzulla (7.2) at the guards with Jones (13.1, 7.4 rpg) and seniors John Flowers (9.6, 6.5) and Cam Thoroughman (2.6) at the forwards. Leading scorer Casey Mitchell (14.1), who also leads the team with 65 3-pointers, Kilicli (6.5), Pepper (3.8) and senior Jonnie West (3.0) will come off of the bench for Huggins' squad.
The winner will advance to the Sweet 16 round to be played next week in Newark, N.J.