WVU basketball: Jayhawks rock Mountaineers, 91-65
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The Allen Fieldhouse was sold out again Saturday, just like the 195 games before the one between West Virginia and Kansas, and the Mountaineers were a lot like they were in the 28 games before their latest loss.
Yet for a surprisingly long time at the start of the game, well before everything changed and the sixth-ranked Jayhawks were on their way to a 91-65 victory before 16,300, WVU was in the lead and seemingly in control.
The score was 16-9 after Deniz Kilicli snatched a missed shot off the offensive glass and put in a short one before completing a three-point play. Aaric Murray then blocked a Kansas shot out of bounds and Jabarie Hinds stole the inbound pass. He dribbled into the roaring student section for a dunk or a layup, whatever he chose, assured of two points and a little momentum he dearly needed to get out of a slump.
Hinds lifted a soft layup into the air that was blocked off the backboard by Elijah Johnson. WVU managed to find the rebound and Eron Harris tried to dunk, but was turned away by a Jeff Withey block, which started one of those adverse sequences that have conquered the Mountaineers throughout the season.
"There's always something you can do to stop a run," Harris said. "But can you do it? Can you, as a team, come together and get the stops you need? To this point, we've proved we can't."
Johnson dunked on the other end and the crowd was awake. Hinds turned the ball over and Ben McLemore drew Murray's second foul in transition. The game went into a timeout with 11:57 to go in the half, but it was all but over for the Mountaineers.
Johnson's dunk and McLemore's free throws started a 26-9 run in which the Jayhawks did so much right and WVU did so much wrong. Kansas made 7 of 12 shots and was active enough to earn nine free throws and make seven.
"We didn't have anything going," Kansas Coach Bill Self said. "Elijah made an unbelievably athletic play and we finally got the thing turned a little bit and did some good things after that."
The Mountaineers, who started 6-for-11, missed 15 of 18 shots and turned it over four times. In one stretch, they missed nine in a row against the NCAA's top-ranked field-goal percentage defense. Four of the nine were blocked while another missed the rim.
There was one narrow opening when Henderson made his third 3-pointer in as many attempts to keep WVU close at 30-25. The Jayhawks missed, but tapped out the offensive rebound and admired Nadir Tharpe's 3. Henderson then drove from an open position on the 3-point line into the crowded paint and had WVU's eighth shot blocked in the half. Tharpe scored on a schoolyard layup to go up by 10 points for the first time.
Tharpe would make another 3 at the end of the half, the fifth straight make for the Jayhawks, who led 45-31.
"Everyone looking saw how we responded to them making shots," Henderson said. "We just didn't have the same energy at all."
The Mountaineers would cut the lead from 16 points to 10 in the second half when Kevin Noreen scored with 16:03 to go, but Withey scored inside against Kilicli and Henderson traveled before Kansas came out of a timeout and had Johnson throw an alley-oop to McLemore for an easy dunk.
Withey blocked Kilicli and Johnson found McLemore open again, this time in the left corner for another 3. Juwan Staten missed a jumper and McLemore dribbled the rebound the other way and fed Kevin Young for a dunk and a 60-41 lead to send WVU into a timeout at the 13:51 mark.
"We just can't overcome those things," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "We're not good enough to get down 10, 12, 14 to a team as good as what they are and be able to come back. We don't have enough offensive firepower to be able to come back. We've got to keep the game in reach."
Kansas started the second half 12-for-15 from the floor and each basket had an assist. The lead would be as large as 29 points. The Jayhawks ended up blocking 13 shots and scoring more points than anyone else has against WVU this season.
They also had just 11 turnovers for six WVU points. In the prior matchup in Morgantown, a 61-56 win for Kansas, the Jayhawks had 16 turnovers for 18 WVU points
"When you're making shots and get a little lead, the other team's pressure is not as good," Self said.
Henderson led WVU with 20 points and six 3s, Dominique Rutledge had with career-high totals of 17 points and 13 rebounds. Harris scored 10 points, but was 0-for-5 from 3 point range and 4-for-17 from the floor. Kilicli had seven points and five turnovers and Hinds was scoreless in 19 minutes and WVU was outscored by 27 points with him on the floor.
WVU shot 32.8 percent in the game. Of the last 213 Kansas opponents, just six have shot at least 50 percent.
McLemore led Kansas with a career-high 36 points. He was 12-for-15 from the floor, 5-for-6 from 3-point range and 7-for-9 at the free-throw line. He broke Danny Manning's single-game freshman scoring record, which was set March 2, 1985.
"He didn't really do anything 1-on-1," Harris said. "He made a lot of free throws. He got to the free-throw line a lot. He made wide-open jump shots. They screened and he got wide-open jump shots. And he hit a lot of free throws."
Withey had 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocked shots. Johnson, who had a career-high 39 points against Iowa State, followed with 11 points and 10 assists.
The Jayhawks (25-4, 13-3 Big 12) shot 56.7 percent in the game and made 11 of 18 3-point shots. They shot 60.6 percent in the second half and had assists on 18 of 20 baskets.
"I don't even remember the first half," Harris said.
WVU (13-16, 6-10) has its longest losing streak in six years with Huggins. It's his longest losing streak since a four-game slide in the 1985 season at Akron. That was also his last losing season, the only one in 28 years as a Division I coach. Huggins also had one losing season in three years at the NAIA's Walsh College.
WVU's only chance to make the NCAA Tournament is to win the Big 12 Tournament, but playing for that title might be the only way into the NIT. To guarantee a final record above .500, WVU has to win Wednesday at Oklahoma, March 9 at home against Iowa State and then three games in the Big 12 Tournament.
The Mountaineers would then be 18-16 and a loss would leave them a game better than .500. Only two of the 224 NIT teams since 2006 have been one game above .500. All 224 have been above .500.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.