Free advice to future Kentucky opponents: Don't provoke the Cats.
West Virginia talked freely Wednesday about giving undefeated Kentucky its first loss and how its pressure defense was something Kentucky hadn't seen before and how its players played harder than Kentucky's.
To which, Marcus Lee dryly said, "I don't think it's probably smart to rattle the cage."
It wasn't. It isn't. It won't be.
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Kentucky blasted West Virginia 78-39 Thursday to advance to an NCAA Tournament Elite 8 game against Notre Dame on Saturday. Irish eyes should not be smiling nor Irish mouths woofing.
"Teams are better off not saying, and catching us off guard," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "Instead of talking (trash) and now we're ready. We were ready to play last night."
For the 14th time this season, Kentucky never trailed. The Cats limited West Virginia to one basket in the first eight-plus minutes, zipped to an 18-2 lead and reduced the game's final 30 minutes to mere formality.
Bob Huggins became the 11th coach this season to suffer his most lopsided loss at the hands of Kentucky. The previous worst loss in eight seasons as WVU coach was a 34-point blowout to Gonzaga in 2012.
Devin Booker's two three-pointers — he had been one of 10 from beyond the arc in the previous three games — contributed to a 60.9-percent shooting first half for Kentucky.
In stark contrast, West Virginia made five of 26 shots in the first half, a UCLA-esque 19.2-percent accuracy against the Cats. The Mountaineers equaled a record low for points in Huggins' time as coach (a 62-39 loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 30, 2008).
According to the pregame talk, West Virginia (25-10) was supposed to defend Kentucky into submission. The much-ballyhooed West Virginia pressure defense never materialized. UK had five first-half turnovers, none forced by the Mountaineers.
When asked if Kentucky was motivated to show it had the superior defense, Cauley-Stein said, "You know, it's not even about that. We know. The whole country knows. They've seen it. We just proved it."
For a while, West Virginia seemed intent on having as many fouls as missed shots. With UK ahead 30-10 at the under-eight timeout, the count was 10 fouls and 13 misses: neck-and-neck to the guillotine.
As expected, West Virginia did foul. Its only starter taller than 6-foot-7, Devin Williams, picked up a foul 12 seconds into the game and a second barely a minute later.
Kentucky shot a one-and-one at the 13:05 mark.
"Sometimes we're going to make silly fouls," Juwan Staten said Wednesday, "but as long as we keep competing and playing harder and longer than our opponents, we should have a good outcome."
Kentucky got caught up in the physical play. The Cats contributed 11 fouls to a first half that saw the teams combine for 25 fouls and 24 free throws.
Before the game in the locker room, West Virginia assistant coach Erik Martin acknowledged the widespread belief that Kentucky would win.
"Probably only the people in this room believe we're going to win this game," he said. "Really, that's all you need."
The Cats' 44-18 halftime lead surely made it unanimous.
"I felt like after the first couple minutes, they surrendered," Tyler Ulis said.
Kentucky (37-0) got a scare in the second half. Aaron Harrison went to the bench carefully holding his left hand. UK said he dislocated his left ring finger. He returned to the game with about 11 minutes left with the two middle fingers of his left hand taped together.
Harrison insisted he will play against Notre Dame. "Oh yeah," he said. "No doubt. I'm playing Saturday."
Andrew Harrison gave this cautionary tale for future UK opponents a memorable punctuation. Intercepting a West Virginia pass, he eluded a defender with a behind-the-back move before flipping a reverse layup high off the glass and into the basket while being fouled. The shot brought a wide smile to his face and several of his teammates' faces. It also put the Cats ahead 70-32 with 6:20 left.
Martin had said the coaches told the West Virginia players, "You guys win this game, you'll go down forever in history."
The chatty Mountaineers went down, all right. Hard.