WVU’s Big 12 Tourney Run Ends With Semifinal Loss To Kansas
The Mountaineers did something no one else had ever done in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, becoming the first 10-seed to advance to the tourney’s semifinals.
But West Virginia’s Cinderella run came to an end Friday night, as it fell to Kansas, 88-74, at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“Three games in three days, that’s tough, especially on a young team that isn’t quite there yet,” said WVU assistant coach Larry Harrison on the MSN postgame radio show. “It becomes a mental thing. It wasn’t anything they did on purpose. It was just a matter of too many games in too many days.”
WVU (14-20) got off to a strong start in the first half, as it held the lead for the first four minutes. A mini-Jayhawk run pushed KU in front at that point, but West Virginia weathered that storm and moved back on top 19-17 after a pair of Lamont West free throws at the 11:30 mark. A short while later a jumper by freshman guard Brandon Knapper was followed by a three-pointer from Chase Harler, and the Mountaineers held a 30-23 advantage with 6:07 remaining in the opening period.
But Kansas took control a few minutes later, mainly on the strength of a five-for-five three-point shooting performance from freshman Quentin Grimes. The Jayhawks closed the first half on a 23-8 run to take an eight-point lead into the lockerroom at halftime. It was the biggest deficit WVU had faced to that juncture in the Big 12 Tournament, as it never trailed Oklahoma by more than six points in game one on Wednesday or Texas Tech by more than four points in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Kansas pulled away early in the second half, outscoring West Virginia 18-8 to start the period. Playing their third game in three days, compared to just two in two for KU, which as the No. 3 seed didn’t have to play in the opening round, the Mountaineers’ shooting went awry. During a crucial five-minute stretch, West Virginia missed 16 of its 17 field goal attempts, and the Jayhawks built an 18-point lead.
“Coming out of the second half, we just didn’t have the energy to come back and compete against a very talented team like Kansas,” noted Harrison.
So much of what WVU had done well in the previous two games were problems on Friday. West Virginia had outrebounded the Sooners and Red Raiders by 10 and 14 boards respectively. Kansas owned the glass in the semifinals, though, winning the battle on the boards 43-33.
The Mountaineers also had made a combined 29-of-35 free throws in their two tourney victories, including a 90.9 percent conversion rate against Texas Tech. But against KU, West Virginia managed to make just 3-of-9 from the line in the first half and 8-of-17 for the game. Meanwhile the Jayhawks knocked down 14-of-16 foul shots.
“We usually shoot free throws pretty good, but with our fatigue, we were leaving a lot of free throws short,” noted Harrison. “That’s usually a sign of tired legs.”
Kansas built up a lead as large as 23 points midway through the second half. WVU cut into that margin at the end, but never really threatened to overtake the Jayhawks.
Lamont West topped West Virginia’s scoring with 16 points. Derek Culver had 14 points and 11 rebounds, which was the 10th double-double of his freshman season.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, their two starting guards, Jermaine Haley and Jordan McCabe, couldn’t keep up their recent pace. Each had scored in double figures in the past seven games, but neither got there on Friday, as McCabe finished with seven and Haley had just four. In addition, WVU freshman forward Emmitt Matthews, who more than doubled his previous career high with 28 points the night before against Texas Tech, managed just five against Kansas.
Dedric Lawson led the five Jayhawks who scored in double figures, as the junior forward finished with 24 points. Grimes slowed down after his torrid first half pace, but he still wound up with 18.
“Lawson was a handful,” said Harrison. “He’s so skilled around the basket, and he’s much more experienced than our guys.”
Despite the fact that West Virginia has a sub .500 record, it still has postseason basketball in front of it. WVU coach Bob Huggins has said his club will participate in the Collegiate Basketball Invitational (CBI), which is a 16-team tournament where teams pay $40,000 to host games.
The complete CBI field will be announced on Sunday, March 17. The Mountaineers are expected to host their opening CBI game on Wednesday, March 20. WVU will also reportedly have the opportunity to host the next two rounds in the single-elimination tournament as well. Three wins gets a teams to the championship round, which is a best two-of-three affair. If West Virginia advances that far, it would start with the road game and then host the next two if necessary.
North Texas defeated San Francisco, 2-1, in the CBI finals last year. Wyoming (2017), Nevada (2016), Loyola Chicago (2015), Siena (2014), Santa Clara (2013), Pitt (2012), Oregon (2011), VCU (2010), Oregon State (2009) and Tulsa (2008) have also won CBI championships in a tournament, which is now 12 years old. It’s anticipated that tickets will be $10 a piece.