Tuesday, January 28, 2013
On the same day the Jayhawks moved to a No. 1 national ranking, Kansas (19-1, 7-0) looked to blow-out West Virginia (9-11, 2-5), racking up a 15-point lead multiple times in the first half.
Yet, the first meeting between the two storied programs was anything but lopsided. WVU turned the 15-point Kansas advantage to a mere two-point lead with 10 minutes to play, but a game-changing 7-0 run late in the second half powered the Jayhawks to their NCAA-leading 18th-straight victory.
After Kansas held the home team without a field goal for nearly eight minutes to start the game, the Mountaineers made six of their first 12 shots to kickoff the second half. While the Jayhawks also stayed hot from the floor, shooting over 50 percent for the ninth time this season, Kansas was cold from the free-throw line. KU finished the night 54.1 percent (20-for-37) from field-goal range, but only 52.9 percent (18-for-34) from the line.
Nevertheless, the Jayhawks did what was needed. Withey scored 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, finishing with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, seven rebounds and four blocks. Releford went 7-for-9 from the floor, also totaling 15 points with a pair of steals. Redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore completed the trio of Jayhawks in double-figures with 13 points, including a team-best 6-for-8 from the free-throw line. Senior guard Elijah Johnson dished out a game-high five assists and led his team with three steals.
Coming in off the bench, junior center Aaric Murray led the floor with 17 points, while sophomore guard Juwan Staten added 14 points to lead the West Virginia offense. Sophomore guard Jabarie Hinds led the Mountaineers scored eight points in the first half, but was held scoreless in the final 20 minutes.
Back-to-back threes from McLemore and Johnson and four-straight points from Withey shot Kansas out to a 10-2 to start the game, prompting a WVU timeout before the first media pause of the game. In fact, West Virginia wouldn’t notch its first bucket until the 12:36 mark, when KU found itself holding the early 14-4 advantage.
Despite the lopsided start, WVU caught a break when McLemore was whistled for his second foul just five minutes into the contest, sending the Big 12’s second-best scorer to the bench for most of the opening frame.
Well-stocked with scoring alternatives, the Kansas offense rolled on without him. Johnson leaped to pick-off a long inbounds pass, and hit Releford with the outlet, which he promptly converted into a dunk. Moments later, Withey broke the 10-point barrier with a short jumper in the lane and Kansas climbed further ahead, 22-7, midway through the half.
When he did return, McLemore welcomed himself back to the game with a steal followed by a fastbreak dunk to highlight a quick 6-0 Jayhawk run, and Kansas cracked a 15-point lead for the second time in opening frame, 29-14.
As expected on their home floor with a full house of support, the Mountaineers charged back. Strong anticipation defense saw sophomore guard Gary Browne swipe two quick passes to jumpstart a 6-0 scoring rally as the home team cut its deficit to eight, 30-22. Browne knocked down a pair of free throws to narrow KU’s lead once more, 34-27, with two minutes to play. In the last play of the half, a costly turnover on the Jayhawk end resulted in a breakaway dunk by Hinds to send the game to halftime with KU leading, 38-30.
KU’s turnover plague bled into the second half, when the Jayhawks’ 11th turnover of the game provided the opportunity for Browne to hit a jumper on his end and the Mountaineers kicked off the second half trailing by only five, 40-35.
In a complete turnaround of how the Mountaineers started the first half, the home team was revived in the second. WVU’s guards sandwiched layups on either side of Releford’s bucket under the basket to slice what once was a 15-point Kansas lead to two points with 14 minutes on the clock, 44-42.
Although both teams came out of the break shooting 50 percent, West Virginia benefitted from two three-pointers, while Kansas had yet to hit one from behind the arc by the second media timeout. The timely long-range shots combined with turnovers saw KU’s lead dwindle to a single possession midway through the half.
Unfazed by the crowd or the pressure, Kansas answered with a 7-0 run. The Jayhawks had kicked their lead back out to six points when Johnson busted loose for another outrageously athletic steal. He sprung up to knock the ball to Releford, and the duo raced back down the floor where he dished off Releford’s only three-pointer of the night, resuming a nine-point lead, 55-46.
Although West Virginia never let the Jayhawks feel comfortable, they also never let off the gas. While its free-throw shooting waned, the Jayhawks turned up the defensive heat, allowing just two WVU field goals in the final six minutes of the game. Fighting till the end and only trailing by five, the Mountaineers drove to the basket in their last possession but back-to-back blocks from Withey preserved the victory, 61-56.