Mountaineers, Jayhawks Trail Texas Tech In Stretch Drive
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – What’s changed between West Virginia and Kansas over the last month?
Not a lot, according to WVU head coach Bob Huggins. The No. 20 Mountaineers and No. 13 Jayhawks have had their trails and tribulations, but the playing style hasn’t morphed much since the initial series meeting on Jan. 15, a 71-66 KU win in Morgantown in which the visitors rallied from down 16 points.
“We looked at a little bit of the first game yesterday, some of the things that they ran offensively and some of the things we ran,” Huggins said. “I don’t know how much different we are. We kinda are what we are.”
Which is true – of now. But West Virginia has had significant line-up shuffling in a recent stretch, both because of illness and a shorter leash by Huggins. Dax Miles went from starter to sub and back. Beetle Bolden dipped a toe into the first five waters, but found what Huggins deemed a touch too much playing time and promptly went back to the bench. Sags Konate sat the final 17-plus minutes in the first half against TCU after a lack of hustle in transition, which propelled Magic Bender into the line-up.
The forward responded with his best game of the year with six rebounds and multiple altered shots, including a block. With the solid play of Logan Routt, the duo gives WVU options at forward to go with Konate and Lamont West, all with widely varied skillsets.
Kansas? It slogged through a 5-3 stretch which would typically be tagged as underwhelming. Losses to Oklahoma State and Baylor were as shocking as could be in a Big 12 conference in which there might be no true upset. Head coach Bill Self is battling with among his least talented rosters, though even that statement puts KU’s ability far above most others. Self has been able to extend the bench, but the Jayhawks remain primarily a seven-man rotation led by incredibly balanced scoring.
Kansas has five players between 12 and 17.5 points per game, led by guard Devonte Graham. The senior is playing exhaustive minutes at 37.2 per game, and remains red hot from three-point range at 41.4 percent for a team that ranks first in the conference in triples per contest at 10.1. In addition to the more than 17 points per game, Graham is dishing 7.2 assists.
Backcourt mate Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk is also playing nearly 35 minutes per game, and is a major threat from three at 44.4 percent as WVU learned when the senior hit for a game-high 17 points in the first meeting with three three-pointers, including a pair over the final seven minutes as Kansas surged to the victory.The Jayhawks average 82 points per game, third-best in the Big 12 and a tick above West Virginia’s 81.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, are an even 4-4 since the initial series game. WVU has won three of its last four, and remains a work in progress in terms of which players will excel in a given outing. The truth is West Virginia might well be a puzzle that Huggins has to piece together on a game-in and -out basis, using the first eight minutes or so to see who’s hot, who’s not and how the best five will fit. The only rotation is that there isn’t one, the only line-up a kind of permanent flux.
“We had a real bad bout with the flu, so we were trying to play the guys we though could play and be productive,” Huggin said. “Some of them have played more minutes than what they normally play. All those guys have played. It’s a matter of the situation and what we though they could continue.
“I think we are making shots that we didn’t make before. We had pretty good looks early (against TCU) and didn’t make them. I think we are taking better shots. Our guys are taking shots they can make as opposed to shots they hope they can make.”
Which will be key in trying to grab a win at Allen Fieldhouse. Though the fortress has shown cracks this season with Kansas losing three times at home, it has yet to yield to West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 0-5 alll-time in the building, all five defeats coming in Big 12 play. The last eight meetings have come with both teams ranked, with Kansas holding a 5-3 advantage. WVU has lost its last three games at Allen Fieldhouse by an average of seven points and held leads late twice in overtime affairs.