Chuck McGill: Miscues aside, WVU shows flashes against Big 12's best
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Chinese acrobat Krystal Liu balanced herself atop an 8-foot tall unicycle, flipping teacups from foot to head, to the delight of 12,402 fans (plus a fascinated press row) during Monday's halftime at the WVU Coliseum.
Lui, more commonly known as Red Panda, calls her performance Seven Minutes of Wow.
That word is an apropos description of her routine, but a little strong for even the brightest of spots for WVU during its 61-56 loss to No. 3 Kansas.
It was the Mountaineers' first Big Monday game as part of the Big 12 - Brent Musburger called play-by-play with a cardboard cutout of Miss Alabama Katherine Webb swaying behind him in the student section - and the Jayhawks' first-ever conference game in the Eastern Time Zone.
But West Virginia (9-11, 2-5 Big 12) couldn't overcome a series of early maladies (seven missed shots to start the game), foul trouble (all four bigs had at least four fouls) and Kansas' overall talent (seven-footer Jeff Withey is going to enjoy a long professional basketball career).
It was WVU's ninth consecutive loss to a nationally ranked team, which extended the Jayhawks' nation-leading winning streak to 18 games.
It had been 10 years and two weeks - Jan. 14, 2003 against Pittsburgh - since the Mountaineers had been at least a 9-point underdog at the Coliseum, as they were Monday night.
That looked like a modest line in the first half when Kansas built a 29-14 lead six minutes before Red Panda took the court. From there, while certainly not mistaken for a "wow" performance, WVU held its own against the Big 12 behemoths.
"It was good to get out of here with a W, that's for sure," Kansas Coach Bill Self said.
The Jayhawks, winners of eight consecutive regular season Big 12 titles, frittered away all but two points of their lead in the second half. WVU trimmed it to 44-42 at 12:30, 46-44 at 11:45 and 48-46 with 10:18 left.
That last basket - a long two-pointer by Juwan Staten with the shot clock winding down - was the closest the Mountaineers would get. But it also capped a 15-minute, 42-second stretch where West Virginia outscored Kansas 34-17.
In fact, after WVU Coach Bob Huggins didn't feel like waiting for the first media break and called a timeout with 15:58 left of the first half, the Mountaineers outscored the Jayhawks 54-51 over the final 36 minutes.
The end result, however, was something that's become common 'round these parts this season. WVU lost for the fifth time in six games, and Huggins lost his 11th game.
How rare is that?
This is Huggins' 31st season as a head coach. He lost at least 11 games in the first year of each of his five coaching stops: Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia.
In his other 26 seasons, he's lost 11 or more games just seven times. He's lost 11 or more five out of six seasons at his alma mater. The 2009-10 Final Four team remains the outlier since his return.
That paints a bleak forecast in what could be Huggins' third-ever losing season. In addition to the conference tournament, WVU still has 11 league games - six on the road. That includes trips to Baylor, K-State, Kansas and Oklahoma. Texas, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Iowa State come here.
The Mountaineers are 1-3 in Big 12 home games.
Kansas has won 33 consecutive games at Allen Fieldhouse, its home court. Heck, the Jayhawks have navigated the home portion of their schedule unscathed in four of the last five seasons.
That's a tough bar to reach in the Big 12. Kansas, after all, has more conference titles (55) than any other school. Ever.
In his postgame comments, Self lamented the 16 points his team left on the free-throw line, and how it was minus-seven in turnover margin.
But what if red-hot freshman Eron Harris doesn't go 0-for-5 for WVU? What if he makes one or two of his four shots from beyond the arc? What if Deniz Kilicli had shown any semblance of being a reliable player on either end of the court?
What if WVU had a little more "wow" ... instead of 15 very good minutes sandwiched by frustration?
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949.