Everest-wise, the nation’s staunchest basketball fans have reached the so-called “death zone.” They have a close-up view of the most gorgeous summit. They have up to four more chances at durable, unfathomable pain.

Their extremely beloved team, Kentucky, stands 36-0 as so many of them head up Interstate 71 toward this Ohioan flatness. Traps do lie ahead. Those begin with a band of pressing, turnover-springing, steal-taking West Virginians.

If No. 1 Kentucky defeats West Virginia on Thursday night, it would play either Notre Dame or Wichita State on Saturday. If the Wildcats surpass that, they would play Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina or Xavier in a national semifinal April 4. If they surpass that, they would play in the final April 6.

If they surpass that, they would do what all the thousands of teams in all the decades of seasons have not done since Indiana in 1976: go from the late fall through hard winter and into early spring without even one night of loss-digestion.

“They’ve never lost a game,” Kentucky junior 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein said of Kentucky’s four prominent freshmen among its nine prominent players. “So they don’t know what it’s like to lose a game. And that’s crazy, when you think about, like, you haven’t lost a game in college.”

The Post Sports Live crew debates which teams remaining in the NCAA tournament can upset Kentucky. (Post Sports Live/The Washington Post)

“We’re happy we’re still playing,” Coach John Calipari said, “and the kids are in a great frame of mind.”

In the vivid history of joy and pain for the blue-minded bulk of the 4.4 million Kentuckians, West Virginia does boast a painful chapter. It’s the program that knocked off Kentucky, 73-66, at the 2010 East Region final in Syracuse, N.Y. That was the Kentucky of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and five NBA first-round draft picks, and that was the Kentucky that missed its first 20 three-point shots against the Mountaineers’ 1-3-1 zone that bygone Saturday. “Yeah, if Cal promises to miss his first 20 threes like they did in 2010, that would help,” Calipari friend and West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins said.

To further energize the border matchup, some West Virginia players claimed not to need such help. Forward Jonathan Holton called West Virginia’s now-famed press “a boogeyman” and said, “You might watch film on it, you might watch a game, but you will never really know until you’re on that court against that press.”

Guard Juwan Staten said, “We’ve watched some games this year that Kentucky’s played, and we’ve seen a couple teams that pressured them, but we honestly don’t think that they pressure them the way that we are.”

That press has helped wreak 19.6 turnovers and 10.9 steals per game, first in Division I. It helped pry 23 turnovers from Maryland in the second round. It’s the reason Kentucky sophomore big man Dakari Johnson said, “We’ve been working on a lot of different press attacks with some of the bigs up,” as it might help to have four guys 6-foot-10 and taller, as Kentucky does. Kentucky has committed only 10.6 turnovers per game, 24th in Division I.

“I have no idea whether we can turn them over or not,” Huggins said. Asked about the height disadvantage, he said, “I don’t know what you do about that. I’ve thought of that, but I haven’t really come up with an answer.”

As for West Virginia’s bold words, Cauley-Stein said, “Now I’m really juiced, like this game’s going to be really fun, like they made it kind of personal.”

Any win there would clear one more bout of tension for a fan base chockablock with deep, precise memory banks. Most of the abundant Kentucky basketball historians agree that from here, any loss would join two excruciating peers at the top of the pain standings: the loss to Texas Western by the cherished “Rupp’s Runts” in the 1966 national championship game and the screeching, haunting loss to Duke on Christian Laettner’s closing shot in the 1992 East Region final in Philadelphia.

“That’s probably the right level,” Kentucky play-by-play man Tom Leach said. “The ’92 team, there was a special connection there, and the same way with the ‘Runts,’ and with this team, it’s doing something that hasn’t been done in 39 years. And you know, it’s a good group of guys, too, so the fans feel a connection with them.”

For some, that closeness to perfection has made a chore of watching games, even more so than usual for a fan base for which nerves do jangle and an especially vivid fan once said NCAA tournament losses were “like death.”

“I’ve talked to a lot of fans now who are having trouble enjoying watching these tournament games because they’re so close to 40-0,” said Darrell Bird, editor since 1997 at The Cats’ Pause, a Kentucky fan magazine. “When you’re four away, and any slip now, it’s a very long fall.” So they watch, “and then they go have a good time the rest of the night, feel great about it, but that 40 minutes, they’re having trouble enjoying it. Some are, not all, but there are some out there. And that’s going to grow.”

Scenarios have narrowed but still abound, with the most harrowing probably a plausible final against Duke. “It would be bad for the fan base to lose now to West Virginia or Notre Dame or whoever, but to get the one game, 39-0, and then you lose, that’s a killer,” Bird said. “Lose to Duke, after Laettner, you might have bridge-jumpers. You can’t paint a worse scenario.

“But the flip side of it for the UK fan base, what if it’s 40-0 and it came at Duke’s expense? They you have the ultimate victory of all time.”

Four wins from something ultimate, the air does keep getting rarer.