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.