WVU basketball: Mountaineers put up fight, fall to Jayhawks
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- What was close at the end Monday night probably should have been on account of some poor free-throw shooting by Kansas.
Then again, maybe West Virginia should have been near the lead or even in possession of it if not for a miserable start against arguably the best team in the nation.
The Mountaineers went nearly 8 minutes to start the game without a basket and were outscored by 15 points during a decisive first half run and the cumulative effect kept them from ever overtaking the Jayhawks in a 61-56 loss before a crowd of 12,402 at the Coliseum.
Ranked No. 1 earlier in the day by the coaches' poll and No. 2 by the media poll, Kansas (19-1, 7-0 Big 12) won its NCAA-best 18th straight game.
WVU (9-11, 2-5) outscored Kansas by 10 points over the final 30 minutes and had chances to tie the score or take the lead, but misfired on each. The Mountaineers were as close as four points after the Jayhawks went 4-for-8 at the free-throw line in the final 1:46, but could never capitalize.
WVU has lost nine straight games to ranked opponents.
"We didn't come to play the first eight minutes and we paid for it," WVU guard Gary Browne said. "Then we came back and had the game, but we gave it away like we always do."
Browne and Aaric Murray combined to put a scare into Kansas immediately after halftime. Murray made a pair of 3-pointers and Browne had a jumper and a layup off a steal to make it 42-40. The Jayhawks, who were up 38-30 at halftime, retreated into a timeout.
"Definitely the game plan was to come out and attack and not let them get up like we did in the first five minutes of the game," Murray said. "Then I guess we lost focus and just stopped running plays."
Kansas scored on a back-cut layup after the timeout. Juwan Staten's layup kept WVU close and Browne drew a charge under the basket to keep the crowd engaged. WVU couldn't get even, though, and had a turnover and a missed jumper on consecutive possessions with a chance to at least tie the score.
Staten made it a two-point game two more times, but after each of his scores Kansas answered to add a little room - with two free throws and then a layup. That basket by Ben McLemore started a 7-0 run and Travis Releford's 3 put Kansas up 55-46 with 7:36 to go.
WVU would only get as close as 60-56 after sending the Jayhawks to the foul line and making the most of their missed free throws. Staten made two at the line with 32.5 seconds left to make it 59-54, and Kansas went 1-for-2 for a third straight trip. Staten pushed in a layup with 24.4 seconds left and Kevin Young went 1-for-2 again for Kansas.
WVU went inside, but 7-foot center Jeff Withey blocked back-to-back shots and Kansas grabbed the rebound and dribbled away the rest of the clock.
"What more could we have done?" Coach Bob Huggins said. "We could have ran what we were supposed to run in the fashion it was supposed to be run."
Murray led all scorers with 17 points and added eight rebounds. Staten had 14 points, but just one assist in 32 minutes. The Mountaineers shot 37 percent against the NCAA's leader in field-goal percentage defense and got nothing from their top perimeter threats.
Freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson combined to miss all seven of their shots and were 0-for-5 from 3-point range. Henderson was scoreless and Harris, who was in double figures the past four games and had averaged 15.8 points, made just two free throws.
The Jayhawks won the rebounding battle for the 17th time (36-27) and gave WVU only nine offensive rebounds and seven second-chance points.
"The big key with West Virginia is that if they shoot a marginal percentage, you have to keep them off the glass because they're a great offensive rebounding team," Kansas Coach Bill Self said. "We actually did a good job with defensive rebounding."
Kansas improved to 19-0 when allowing the opponent to shoot below 50 percent and 14-0 when allowing fewer than 60 points.
Withey had 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. Releford made 7 of 9 shots for 15 points and McLemore, second in the Big 12 in scoring and leading in field-goal, free-throw and 3-point percentage, had 13 points. The Jayhawks shot 54.1 percent, but let WVU stick around by missing 16 free throws in 34 attempts.
"The thing I don't like is when you're playing with a lead late, you tend to get passive or have guys try to make a great play instead of a good play, and that happened (Monday)," Self said.
The Mountaineers quickly found themselves precisely where they did not want to be. WVU stole the ball away from Kansas on the game's first possession and Deniz Kilicli made two free throws, but the Jayhawks made back-to-back 3-pointers and their first three shots as part of 16 unanswered points in a 22-5 run.
WVU was again down by double digits in a Big 12 game, but this time after just 5:11. The Mountaineers missed their first seven shots and had three turnovers before Kilicli's basket at the 12:36 mark. That made it 16-4. The Mountaineers would need a timeout down 29-14, when they were just 3-for-14 from the floor to 11-for-20 for Kansas.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at bogs.dailymail.com/wvu.