West Virginia Amasses Double-Digit Lead, Can’t Hold On Versus Kansas
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Unfortunate.
West Virginia again had its chances to beat Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. But once again the Jayhawks rallied from down double digits with a late push to win 77-69 by scoring the last 17 meaningful points of the game.
For Dax Miles’ late sin of trying to pass to the interior, one cannot fault the heart of the idea. It was a poor decision, yes. It shouldn’t have been a play made by a senior. But he was trying to be a quality teammate and give the ball up for a better shot. Again, wrong play, wrong thought, but the pure feel of it can’t be completely dismissed.
It’s disappointing. All of it. The last two overtime defeats and this game which WVU led for 29 of the 40 minutes of play. The Mountaineers largely controlled Kansas for the majority. But that’s been the case multiple times before. There’s a lack of ability to finish that has cost this group dearly at times. One could examine the stats for the reasons. A 35-2 edge in free throws sticks out. It’s just the sixth time in program history in which West Virginia has attempted that number or fewer in a game, and it’s never happened under Bob Huggins.
The coach himself was ejected at the end after arguing what could or should have been a foul call after a late challenge to the bucket. It didn’t sit well with the coach, and as a result Huggins received one technical from one official, then added to it with another from a different striped shirt. No one could blame him.
“That’s the shame of the whole deal,” Huggins said. “I think there are may times in a game (the officials) get tired so they blow the whistle to get a rest, but I don’t think (that happened) today. Whatever it is you call, you have to be consistently calling it both ways. You can’t tell me we didn’t get fouled more than twice? Come on.
“I don’t think that officials should look for things. I don’t think they should stand there and stare a kid down.”
All true. What’s also true is that there will be more fouls whistled on a team which can get entry passes to the post. The Mountaineers struggled badly in that aspect, while Kansas thrived. That’s going to result in more fouls against the defense in that situation.
The game was the definition of frustration, the kind which one can see coming but can do little about as a fan. The poor long pass from Jevon Carter to Magic Bender which resulted in a turnover, the foul call on Sags Konate with 15:50 left that came right on the back of a third whistle on Udoke Azubuike’s with 16:32 remaining that sent the dominant frontcourt player to the bench.
It should have slid a major edge to West Virginia in the post. But with Konate quickly following, that never materialized. Neither did the turnover margin needed, Kansas committing eight to WVU’s 13. That led to a 15-8 edge in points off of by the Jayhawks. There was more. KU’s 30-16 advantage in points in the paint courtesy of the lack of ability to feed the ball to the post. That also creates the foul discrepancy, though not to a 35-2 degree.
It goes on and on. West Virginia took 14 more shots, made five more field goals, had 13 offensive rebounds to eight for Kansas. But it wasn’t enough. Even Miles’ career-best six three-pointers, snapping his previous career high of five, didn’t quite have the pull it needed to snap a five-game skid at Allen Fieldhouse that extended to a half dozen and shows no signs of stopping.
There’s a reason Kansas rarely loses at home and is now 38-6 versus ranked foes at Phog Allen. Perhaps part of that is fouls and free throws Part of it is talent. But part is also, at least in this game, that West Virginia stopped running offense and chose to stall the ball multiple times over the last eight minutes. One cannot milk the clock that early in the game. One high ball screen to exploit perhaps something seen on film is one thing. Continuing to do it again and again is another.
It just seems there’s little way for WVU to get out of Allen with a win. The Big 12 regular season championship bid is gone, if not mathematically than in practicality. The Mountaineers are now 19-8 overall, 8-6 in the Big 12 and a full two games behind Kansas (21-6, 10-4) and will lose the tiebreaker of head-to-head record. That’s not even factoring Texas Tech, the league leader.
That goal and dream is gone. What’s required now is a reset, both mentally and in some aspects of play. West Virginia, up 50-40 inside 10 minutes, blew another big lead in a big game. It has four games left in trying to secure a top five seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s really little else at this point in terms of the regular season. Try and grind out some Ws over the final four and see what transpires. But the discouragement is palpable, even for Huggins.
“We gotta go get ready for Baylor,” Huggins said. “Hopefully they don’t shoot 35 free throws to our two. We will get them back. We will find a way to bounce back. We just try to win out.”