Elite Eight: Kentucky Aims For 14th Final Four Appearance; WVU Hopes For 2nd

The East Region's representative in the Final Four will be decided in Syracuse on Saturday, when top-seeded Kentucky tips off against 2-seed West Virginia at 7:05 Eastern.

Our Kentucky blog, A Sea Of Blue, offers an extensive preview of the match-up. In part:

We all know what Kentucky will try to do tonight both offensively and defensively in tonight's contest: Get the ball inside to DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, and Daniel Orton.  With WVU challenging UK's interior motives with 6-9 Kevin Jones, (one-time UK target) 6-9 Devin Ebanks, and 6-7 Wellington Smith, the 'Cats hold a considerable size advantage.   Huggins' hope is his changing multiple zone looks will disrupt UK's ability to get the ball to the low post.

Our West Virginia blog, The Smoking Musket,  asserts that the Mountaineers will be a far more serious challenge than the last three teams that have been steamrolled by the Wildcats.

Kentucky is easily the most talented team we've faced all year, but we're also the most physical team they've faced.

Both blogs will have live game threads ready before tip-off, so be sure to check back with A Sea Of Blue and The Smoking Musket.

Preview courtesy of Sports Network.

A berth in the "Final Four" is on the line tonight in Syracuse, New York, as the top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats and the second-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers do battle in the 2010 NCAA Tournament East Regional Final.

The winner of this game will take on either Duke or Baylor next Saturday in Indianapolis.

West Virginia has won its last nine games to improve to 30-6 overall, and its most recent triumph was Thursday's 69-56 decision over Washington. The Mountaineers, who won the Big East Conference Tournament, crushed 15th-seeded Morgan State in the first round of this event before knocking off 10th-seeded Missouri by nine points in the second round. WVU is now 23-22 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers finished sixth in the final regular-season AP Poll, their best finish since placing fifth in 1960.

As for Kentucky, it took down "Cinderella" Cornell by a final of 62-45 on Thursday, thanks to one of the best defensive efforts that we have seen by any team in "Sweet 16" action over the last quarter century. The Wildcats are led by first-year head coach John Calipari and are one of only two No. 1 seeds remaining in this tournament (Duke). Three UK starters are freshmen, and while youth can be a detriment, Calipari's squad has been dominant, winning its first and second round games by 29 and 30 points, respectively, prior to the triumph over Cornell. The Wildcats are making their record 50th NCAA Tournament appearance and own a 101-44 record in the event all-time. They are 35-2 overall this season and won both the SEC regular season and tournament titles.

The Wildcats own a 13-4 series advantage over the Mountaineers, which includes seven straight wins over WVU.

Prior to the "Sweet 16" matchup with Washington, West Virginia starting point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant broke his foot in practice, knocking him out of the tournament. Many wondered how the loss would affect the Mountaineers, and early on the team did struggle at times offensively against the Huskies. Fortunately, WVU played tremendous defense, limiting Washington to 39.3 percent shooting from the floor while forcing 21 turnovers. Rebounding was a huge key to the Mountaineers as well, as they finished with a 49-29 edge on the boards. Kevin Jones led three double-digit scorers with 18 points, and he ripped down eight rebounds as well. Da'Sean Butler added 14 points, and Devin Ebanks finished with a dozen. Butler is the team's leading scorer through 36 games with 17.4 ppg, while Jones (13.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Ebanks (12.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg) are solid contributors as well. WVU is generating 72.8 ppg while limiting foes to 63.1 ppg.

Kentucky has advanced to the Regional Finals for the 31st time in program history, and there are a few obvious reasons for the 17-point win over Cornell. Above all, it was a sensational defensive effort that saw the Wildcats limit the Big Red to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor, including a 5-of-21 effort from three-point range, 20 percent below the club's average efficiency from behind the arc. Rebounding was also key to the victory, as Kentucky earned a 41-28 edge on the boards. DeMarcus Cousins scored 16 points, while fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe added 12 points. Patrick Patterson ripped down 12 rebounds, and John Wall dished out eight assists. Wall has racked up 236 assists this season, and he has 62 steals as well to go along with 16.6 ppg. Cousins provides 15.1 ppg and 9.9 rpg, while Patterson posts 14.5 ppg. Bledsoe is netting 11.4 ppg for Kentucky, which is scoring 79.6 ppg while permitting just 64.7 ppg on 37.8 percent shooting by opponents.

There is no doubt that Kentucky is the most talented team remaining in this tournament. West Virginia will certainly give the Wildcats a better challenge than the other three opponents to date, but Cousins and Patterson will be too much inside.

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