WVU Sick Of Losing
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–West Virginia’s basketball team had seemingly everything going against it Saturday afternoon.
It was playing the No. 7 team in the country, Kansas, which had won or shared the Big 12 Conference title an amazing 14 straight years.
West Virginia’s best player, Sagaba Konate, was missing his ninth straight game, as he continues to rehab his injured knee.
Then to make matters worse, starters Beetle Bolden and Logan Routt both came down with the flu prior to the game.
Routt, the junior center, didn’t play at all.
Bolden wondered if he would be able to go either. He was throwing up in the locker room prior to the game.
“I was real sick,” explained the junior guard. “I could barely run (in the pregame) without feeling dizzy.”
Bolden came out for warm-ups but had to go back into the locker room after a few minutes.
“I took myself out of the pregame,” said the 6-footer from Covington, Ky. “I got some IVs and some medicines, and I started feeling better. I was fighting it some the whole game, but I consider myself a warrior. If I can provide for my team any way, I’ll do it.
“Our training staff did a great job getting me ready. I wasn’t sure I was going to play until about 10 minutes before the game.”
Bolden didn’t start, but he came in to survive 29 minutes of up-and-down action. He had 12 points, two assists, four steals and no turnovers and maybe even more importantly provided the heart and inspiration his struggling team needed.
Despite all the odds, West Virginia upset the Jayhawks 65-64 in the WVU Coliseum.
The win improved the Mountaineers’ record to 9-9 overall and got them to 1-5 in the Big 12. Meanwhile Kansas fell to 15-3 overall and 4-2 in the league. It was the fifth time in KU’s last six trips to the Coliseum that it has come up short.
“I knew (Bolden) would play,” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. “That’s Beetle. Beetle is going to play. Beetle said he’s sat on the bench enough (because of prior injuries). He’s going to play. I didn’t have any doubt he was going to play. Now I didn’t know how well he’d play, but I knew he’d try.”
Inspired by Bolden, the Mountaineers put recent disappointments behind them, and stuck to the Jayhawks throughout.
The two clubs exchanged the lead 11 times in the first half, though neither was particularly efficient offensively.
“I think we both set basketball back a few decades in the first half,” said KU coach Bill Self of the first 20 minutes, in which the two clubs combined to miss all nine three-point attempts, contributing to a low 23-23 tie score at halftime. “We played better in the second half, and so did they.”
For West Virginia it was about confidence and effort, as it tried to snap a five-game losing streak.
“We went through a little phase lately where we kind of felt sorry for ourselves,” noted WVU junior guard Chase Harler, who finished with seven points, equaling his total from the previous five Big 12 games this season. “Not winning takes a toll on you. But we decided to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. We had great practices the last two days. We played pretty well today, kept ourselves and then Jermaine (Haley) got an unbelievable take at the end.”
It was Haley’s drive down the line that put West Virginia on top 65-64. Kansas had led by six, 64-58, with 2:35 left, but it missed three straight shots down the stretch. WVU drew within one on a Wes Harris three-pointer and a Derek Culver layup. After the Mountaineers held off another KU attempt to extend its lead with 28 seconds left, that set the stage for Haley’s heroics.
“We threw it into Culver in the high post, and he was looking for (Esa) Ahmad in the lane,” Haley explained of the final set. “We had run the same play three times before. We were trying to get the same look, because they kept switching bigs and guards, and we were trying to get a mismatch. We threw it to Culver, but he didn’t have the right look, so he threw it back to me. He came over to screen for me, but I rejected the screen and got in the lane. Everything opened up after that.”
The junior guard didn’t have much time to celebrate, though. As soon as he saw his go-ahead shot go through the net, he had just one thought. “We’ve got to get a stop,” he recalled. “I still knew there was time left on the clock, so all I thought about was getting back on defense.
“We had time to celebrate after. We needed to get the stop first.”
“(Wes) Harris had great defense down the stretch on (KU’s Lagerald) Vick,” added Haley of West Virginia’s final defensive play. (Kansas center Dedric) Lawson almost had the tip, so we should have done a better job boxing him out, but the ball bounced in our favor tonight.”
It was a bounce WVU badly needed.