The Kentucky Wildcats have been getting by on an explosive offense for most of the season, but it was their stifling defense that earned them a trip to the Elite Eight in a 62-45 win over Cornell in the East Regional Semifinals on March 25 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.
Playing what felt like a road game, Kentucky, one of two No. 1 seeds remaining in the tournament, turned up the heat against the crowd favorite. Cornell, whose campus in Ithaca, N.Y. is 55 miles from the Carrier Dome, came out fighting early and took a 10-2 lead before Kentucky came roaring back.
Kentucky freshman DeMarcus Cousins got his team back on track with eight points to even the score before Kentucky stormed out to a 32-16 halftime lead. Much-hyped Kentucky freshman phenom John Wall had a relatively quiet game, but still finished near a triple-double with eight points, eight assists and seven rebounds. The point guard also chipped in two steals and one block to set the defensive tone for a Kentucky stranglehold.
Kentucky was forced to rely on its defense as it shot 44 percent from the field, a woeful 12 percent from three-point range and 61 percent from the free throw line. While Kentucky struggled shooting, it held Cornell (29-5) to the third-lowest point total of any Kentucky opponent in the NCAA tournament since 1950. Cornell shot 33 percent from the field, 23 percent from three-point range and 61 percent from the free throw line.
Kentucky (35-2) will face the No. 2 seeded West Virginia Mountaineers (30-6) on March 27 for a chance to go to the Final Four. Should Kentucky win, it would be their first trip since 1998. Matching up with Kentucky’s Wall should be a difficult test for WVU, who lost starting point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant after the sophomore broke his foot in practice earlier in the week.