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Jeff Eisenberg

Three-point shooting fuels West Virginia, fells Kentucky

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

Kentucky's erratic 3-point shooting has been its primary weakness all season, so it was no surprise to see a cold spell from behind the arc end the top-seeded Wildcats' NCAA tournament run.

A far bigger shock, however, was that West Virginia's 73-66 upset victory was also fueled by torrid long-range shooting of its own.

Ranked 198th in the nation in 3-point shooting entering Saturday's East Regional Final, the second-seeded Mountaineers advanced to the Final Four for the first time since 1959 thanks to sizzling 10-of-23 shooting from behind the arc. They missed all 16 of their two-point attempts in the first half, yet somehow sank 8 of 15 from 3-point range, four alone coming in one five-minute stretch from forward Da'Sean Butler.

"You have to give them credit," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "The last five games they had shot 25 percent from the three. When we walked in at halftime, I said, 'They don't have a basket, guys. We have to guard [Kevin] Jones and we have to guard Butler to the three-point line. You must.' We came out and Jones hits a three right off the start. It was like, 'You know, we just left halftime.' "

If West Virginia's perimeter shooting was unusually accurate, Kentucky's was more off-the-mark than ever before. Unable to consistently attack the middle of West Virginia's stingy 1-3-1 zone defense, the Wildcats instead settled for jumper after jumper, missing their first 20 attempts from behind the arc.

DeAndre Liggins finally ended the drought with 3:29 remaining, but Kentucky still finished a season-worst 4 of 32 from 3-point range.

Three-point struggles are nothing new for a Kentucky team that gets most of its buckets in the paint, in transition or on the offensive glass, but West Virginia forced the Wildcats into a slow-paced game and shut down the paint.

It also didn't help that this was a rare night when Kentucky acted its age, John Wall displaying questionable shot selection before fouling out, DeMarcus Cousins picking up his third foul two minutes into the second half and the rest of the team looking panicky when a two-point halftime deficit ballooned to double digits.

"We've had shooting days like this, but we won anyway because maybe the teams weren't quite as good as West Virginia," Calipari said. "But today that team was too good for us to shoot like we did."

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