The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

February 9, 2014

KU powers past upset-minded Mountaineers

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Every time West Virginia coach Bob Huggins looked to the scorer’s table, Kansas coach Bill Self was getting ready to send another line change into the game.

You see, depth is a luxury for the eighth-ranked Jayhawks. It’s a liability for the Mountaineers.

So as the fouls began to pile up Saturday, Kansas was able to keep shuffling fresh bodies into the game. That allowed the defending Big 12 champions to bide their time until their starters could take over down the stretch, spurring them on to an 83-69 victory.

Andrew Wiggins finished with 19 points and Wayne Selden Jr. added 17, but most of that came after reserves such as Tarik Black, Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor had provided a spark.

“There were a couple starters that obviously didn’t play with the energy they should,” Self said, “and you need your best players playing their best. The reason they start is they’re your best players. But we didn’t have a drop-off at all.”

Black finished with 11 points, Mason had five points and five assists, and Traylor was 3 for 3 from the field for the Jayhawks (18-5, 9-1 Big 12), who honored the 40th anniversary of their 1974 Final Four team by taking a two-game lead over surprising Texas in the conference race.

The 15th-ranked Longhorns on Saturday lost to Kansas State, which will host the Jayhawks on Monday night. Kansas routed the Wildcats 86-60 on Jan. 11.

“I feel like going in, we’re expecting the worst, expecting a hostile environment, expecting not to get any calls,” Selden said, “but we’ll battle through it.”

Juwan Staten scored 22 points and Eron Harris had 17 for West Virginia, which dealt with foul trouble nearly the entire game. At one point, the Mountaineers had five players with four fouls apiece, and Brandon Watkins and Devin Williams eventually fouled out.

Still, the Mountaineers hung around until late in the game.

They closed within 69-65 on two free throws by Harris, who briefly left after turning his ankle earlier in the game. Another free throw by Staten a few minutes later got them within 72-66 with 3:49 to go, silencing another packed crowd at Allen Fieldhouse.

That’s when Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks’ talented 7-foot freshman, scored in the paint. Naadir Tharpe drained a 3-pointer on their next trip down the court, and Selden sliced into the lane for a layup that made it 77-66 and forced Huggins to call a timeout.

Just like that, a nip-and-tuck game began turning into a blowout.

“We just didn’t make any open shots,” said Huggins, who has never beaten Kansas in seven tries with Cincinnati, Kansas State and now the Mountaineers.

“Their rebounding at the foul line hurt us,” he said. “They go 1 for 2 from the foul line and then offensive rebounded at the foul line and score. Those are the things that really hurt you.”

The first half was far more entertaining than the second, when the whistles really began. Kansas raced to an early lead, the Mountaineers answered with a trio of 3-pointers from Harris, and the Jayhawks slowly crept out to another lead when West Virginia suddenly went cold.

The Mountaineers didn’t make a field goal over the final 7:36 of the first half, allowing Kansas to take a 43-36 lead on Wiggins’ buzzer-beating dunk.

The superstar freshman did most of his damage in the second half by driving to the basket and getting fouled, finishing 7 of 10 from the free throw line — he was 6 of 14 from the field.

“I tried to be aggressive,” Wiggins said, “get into the lane, tried to get contact and get to the foul line, and get my teammates involved.”

The teams combined for 50 fouls and shot 65 free throws in a game that rarely went more than a minute without a whistle. More than once, multiple fouls were called on one trip down the court, turning long stretches of the second half into a free throw shooting contest.

The Jayhawks wound up 23 of 34 from the free throw line. West Virginia was 25 of 31.

“We just had some guys that didn’t play very well,” Huggins said, “which happens.”

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