Mark Story

How Kentucky and West Virginia match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky basketball expecting rough reception at West Virginia

Kentucky freshmen Hamidou Diallo and Quade Green talk about what they are expecting at West Virginia on Saturday night.
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Kentucky freshmen Hamidou Diallo and Quade Green talk about what they are expecting at West Virginia on Saturday night.

How Kentucky (15-5) and No. 7 West Virginia (16-4) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Small forward

▪  Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox turned in one of his most efficient performances in UK’s 78-65 win over Mississippi State on Tuesday night. The 6-foot-9, 215-pound product of Tampa, Fla., scored 19 points on 5-of-6 field goals, 4-of-4 three-point attempts and 5-of-6 foul shots. In true road games, Knox has been a gauge for how UK will fare. In wins at LSU and Vanderbilt, he hit a combined 12 of 21 shots; in losses at Tennessee and South Carolina, he went 7-of-25.

▪  West Virginia sophomore Wesley Harris (6.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has performed well against SEC competition. The 6-8, 200-pound sophomore from Jackson, Miss., had 12 points in WVU’s season-opening loss to Texas A&M. He almost produced a double-double (nine points, 10 rebounds) in West Virginia’s 83-79 win over Missouri.

Advantage: Kentucky

Power forward

▪  Kentucky’s PJ Washington had his best game in a UK uniform in the victory over Mississippi State. The 6-7, 236-pound freshman from Dallas had 22 points (6-of-10 field goals, 10-of-14 foul shots) with six rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals. Washington (11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) has been a road warrior. In UK’s first four true road games, he made a combined 18 of 26 shots.

▪  Two seasons ago, WVU sophomore Lamont West redshirted to gain strength on his 6-8 frame. Now up to 230 pounds, the Cincinnati product has seen his game strengthen, too. West is averaging 11.4 points and 5.1 rebounds. Like several WVU starters, however, West is not an especially accurate shooter. He is making only 40.8 percent of his field-goal tries.

Advantage: Kentucky

PJ Washington smile
Kentucky forward PJ Washington had reason to smile while scoring 22 points to lead the Wildcats past Mississippi State on Tuesday night. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Center

▪  Kentucky’s Nick Richards (6.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) struggled against Mississippi State, failing to score after missing his only shot and grabbing one rebound in 11 minutes. The 6-11, 240-pound freshman from Kingston, Jamaica, has only had one double-digit scoring game (12 points in UK’s loss at South Carolina) in the last 11 contests.

▪  West Virginia big man Sagaba Konate has become a difference-making shot blocker in 2017-18. The 6-8, 260-pound native of Bamako, Mali, is averaging 9.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and a robust 3.3 blocks. In WVU’s home loss to Kansas, Konate had 16 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks.

Advantage: West Virginia

WVU Konate
West Virginia big man Sagaba Konate (50) has developed into one of college basketball’s most feared shot blockers. Phelan M. Ebenhack Associated Press

Shooting guard

▪  In the last 11 games, Kentucky redshirt freshman Hamidou Diallo (12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg) has made 50 percent of his shots only one time (6-of-9 vs. Texas A&M). The 34 assists recorded this season by the 6-5, 198-pound product of Queens, N.Y., are matched by his 34 turnovers. “Press Virginia” figures to be a challenge for Diallo.

WVU Miles
West Virginia guard Daxter Miles Jr. (4) went scoreless in 19 minutes against Kentucky in the 2015 NCAA Tournament round of 16. Richard W. Rodriguez Associated Press

▪  As a freshman in 2014-15, West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. became part of UK basketball lore when he predicted WVU would end UK’s unbeaten season in the NCAA Tournament round of 16. He then went scoreless in 19 minutes as the Cats put a 78-39 thrashing on the Mountaineers. Since then, Miles Jr., now a senior, has developed into a quality player (13.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.6 assists). The 6-3, 200-pound Baltimore product is currently mired in a 7-of-33 shooting slump on three-point attempts, though.

Advantage: West Virginia

Point guard

▪  After Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had six assists vs. 10 turnovers in losses to South Carolina and Florida, the Kentucky freshman got back on the beam (16 points, four rebounds, six assists, no turnovers) in the win over Mississippi State. Overall, the 6-6, 180-pound native of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, (12.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, team bests of 87 assists and 36 steals) has been UK’s most pleasant surprise.

▪  West Virginia senior Jevon Carter is one of the best point guards in the country. The 6-2, 205-pound product of Maywood, Ill., is averaging 16.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.4 steals. Carter is coming off a dreadful shooting night (6-of-18, 0-of-6 treys) in WVU’s 82-73 loss at TCU on Monday night.

Advantage: West Virginia

WVU Carter
West Virginia senior Jevon Carter, with ball, is one of the best point guards in college basketball but comes into the Kentucky game off a 6-of-18 shooting night in WVU’s Monday night loss at TCU. Ray Thompson Associated Press

Bench

▪  Once Kentucky freshmen Quade Green and Jarred Vanderbilt return to “game shape,” the Cats could become a substantially deeper team. After missing three games due to a back injury, the 6-foot Green (9.8 ppg) has made only one of 10 shots in two contests since his return. The 6-9 Vanderbilt made his season debut at South Carolina after missing the first 17 games due to a foot injury. In three games since, the Houston product has been active on the glass (6 rpg) but has yet to get his shot (5-of-17) going. Against Mississippi State, sophomore Wenyen Gabriel (6.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) had all seven of his points and all six of his rebounds in the second half.

▪  Former Covington Holmes star James “Beetle” Bolden is West Virginia’s most consistent three-point threat (42-of-100 on the season). The 6-foot, 170-pound sophomore (9.2 ppg) sat out the second half at TCU after suffering a groin injury. West Virginia’s depth got a boost when 6-8, 230-pound junior Esa Ahmad (10.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) was ruled eligible by the NCAA on Jan. 13. A season ago, the Cleveland product averaged 11.3 ppg and 4.3 rpg. Freshman Teddy Allen (8.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg) has been productive this season. Ex-Pleasure Ridge Park standout D’Angelo Hunter (1.8 ppg in 12 games) gives WVU a second Kentuckian on its bench.

Advantage: West Virginia

WVU Bolden
West Virginia guard James “Beetle” Bolden, a former star at Covington Holmes High School, is the Mountaineers’ most effective three-point shooter (42-of-100) this season. Ray Thompson Associated Press

Intangibles

Kentucky is averaging 16 turnovers in its five losses. West Virginia has forced 20.1 turnovers a game in its 16 victories — but only 14.3 in its four defeats. UK has won nine of the past 10 meetings against WVU. The Cats have not played in Morgantown since a 106-100 victory Dec. 7, 1970. Kentucky is 5-1 against Bob Huggins-coached teams, with the sole defeat the 73-66 loss to WVU in the 2010 NCAA Tournament round of eight. Huggins is 8-3 all-time against John Calipari-coached teams but is 1-2 against Calipari-led UK squads.

Advantage: West Virginia

WVU Huggins
Bob Huggins-coached teams are 8-3 against John Calipari-coached squads — but 1-5 against Kentucky. Ray Thompson Associated Press

Prediction

West Virginia 78, Kentucky 73

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