MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia played Kansas tough, but the Jayhawks proved too long and too athletic in depositing the homestanding Mountaineers, 61-56, Monday night at the WVU Coliseum.
“I thought for the most part we competed hard for the whole game – finally,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “I’m tired of losing, I know that. I don’t lose very well; I hate it, and I particularly hate this because I didn’t think it would happen.”
Kansas, ranked No. 1 in this week’s USA Today Coaches’ Poll and No. 2 in the AP poll, built a 15-point first half lead and had an eight-point advantage at halftime, 38-30.
Then, West Virginia used a 10-4 run to begin the second half to reduce its deficit to two, 42-40, before Travis Releford ended KU’s drought with a layup basket. Three more times the Mountaineers were within a bucket of tying it at 44-42, 46-44 and then 48-46 before Kansas re-assumed control of the game with a seven-point flurry to push its lead back to nine, 57-48, with 6:15 remaining.
Several times from there, when West Virginia was still within striking distance, the Mountaineers had great difficulty on offense handling Kansas’ length on the wings and that resulted in hurried and forced shots deep in the shot clock.
“We just don’t have a guy that we can go to,” said Huggins. “When we need a basket to stop the bleeding we don’t have anybody you feel pretty good about getting them open.”
Kansas (19-1, 7-0) probably made the game tougher than it should have been by missing 16 free throws, including seven in the second half. Those KU misses compensated for a 34-15 disparity in free throw attempts.
"If you make your free throws it turns out, at least visually, to be a much better game," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "We're happy with the win and we played very well in the first half and were only up eight; second half we just kind of pieced it together. It's good to get out of here with a win, that's for sure."
West Virginia took 17 more field goal attempts than Kansas, but managed to convert just 37 percent of those (20 of 54) while Kansas actually shot the ball better from the floor than it did from the line – 54.1 percent to 52.9 percent – and dominated the glass by a 36-27 margin.
Seven-foot center Jeff Withey made 6 of 8 from the floor and scored 15 points to lead the Jayhawks. Releford also scored 15 and Ben McLemore added 13 for KU, making its first visit to the WVU Coliseum.
For West Virginia, junior forward Aaric Murray
came off the bench to score a game-high 17 points, including 3 of 5 from 3, while Juwan Staten
added 14 as the Mountaineers slip to 9-11, 2-5.
All four of West Virginia’s 3-point field goals came from its bigs – three from Murray and one from sophomore Kevin Noreen
“Obviously we need to go and recruit somebody who is going to make a shot,” said Huggins. “That’s been painfully obvious.”
Freshman Eron Harris
, who reached double figures in each of his last four games and was averaging more than 15 points per game during that stretch, was 0 for 5 from the floor and finished with just 2 points. Fellow freshman Terry Henderson
was 0 for 2 in just 11 minutes of action. “(Harris) can’t get one to go down today,” said Huggins.
A season-high crowd of 12,402 attended tonight’s game.
“They’re a good team but we had a chance,” noted Huggins.
West Virginia looks to get back on track Saturday afternoon at Texas Tech. The game will tip off at 1:30 and will be televised by the Big 12 Network.