No. 2 Kansas wastes big lead but wins at West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Kansas has stretched the nation's longest winning streak to 18 games with a mix of blowouts, nail-biters and, lately, strength-sapping defense.
The second-ranked Jayhawks turned up the pressure after nearly relinquishing a 15-point lead, then watched West Virginia wilt down the stretch in a 61-56 victory Monday night.
In the first meeting ever between the schools, the Jayhawks held West Virginia to four field goals over the final 10 minutes.
"The second half we just kind of pieced it together," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Our defense needed to be good because we didn't score, either. I thought defensively we did a pretty good job."
Travis Releford and Jeff Withey each scored 15 points while Ben McLemore overcame early foul trouble to add 13 points for Kansas (19-1, 7-0 Big 12).
The Jayhawks have held their past six opponents to fewer than 60 points. They are in the middle of a stretch of six of nine games on the road.
The next test for the winning streak comes at home Saturday against Oklahoma State (13-5, 3-3).
"None of us are paying any attention to it," Releford said of the streak, which started Nov. 15. "We don't sit around in the locker room and talk about it because we know it's a long season. So we're not too worried about it."
Kansas shot better from the field (54 percent) than at the free throw line (53 percent). It was the Jayhawks' second-worst showing of the season at the line.
Kansas had 16 turnovers, including three apiece by McLemore, Releford and Elijah Johnson.
"Our guard play has got to get better," Self said. "Teams that pressure us, we've kind of thrown it around of late. I thought we did some good things but we made some bonehead plays."
Aaric Murray had 17 points and Juwan Staten added 14 for the Mountaineers (9-11, 2-5), who fell to 0-4 against ranked opponents this season.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins could have picked up a $25,000 bonus for a regular-season win over Kansas, something that was included in a contract extension signed in November.
But the Mountaineers shot just 37 percent, and Huggins fell to 0-5 all-time against the Jayhawks.
Without any players averaging in double-figure scoring for the season, Huggins has jumbled his lineups to try to come up with size matchups and points production.
Lately, not much has worked.
West Virginia has lost five of six games. With 11 games left in the regular season, the Mountaineers are in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time under Huggins, their sixth-year coach.
Freshman Eron Harris, who led West Virginia in scoring at nearly 16 points over the previous three games, was limited to two points on 0-of-4 shooting against Kansas.
"I just never know what we are going to do," Huggins said. "It seems like when we have made shots, we miss free throws. When offense kind of ran, we didn't guard (Kansas)."
Big 12 newcomer West Virginia never led in the second half. Staten scored three straight baskets, including a jumper that pulled the Mountaineers within 48-46 with 10:19 left.
"West Virginia executed their plays well (in the second half) and we weren't in tune with our scouting report and they got some easy baskets," Releford said.
But West Virginia fell silent over the next three minutes, while McLemore, Kansas' leading scorer, made up for a sour first half in which he spent most of the time on the bench in foul trouble.
McLemore hit a layup and made two free throws on the next trip down the court during a 7-0 run that put the Jayhawks ahead 55-46 with 7:33 left.
West Virginia never recovered.
Kansas held West Virginia without a field goal over the game's first seven minutes. Withey, who had a 25-pound weight disadvantage to West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli, scored eight of Kansas' first 14 points and reached double figures midway through the half.
The Jayhawks twice built a 15-point lead before getting sloppy, and West Virginia trimmed the deficit to 38-30 at halftime.
- John Higgins
- Tom O'Neill
- Terry Oglesby
2022-23 Big 12 Conference Standings