Déjà vu: Jayhawks come back to overcome West Virginia
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Trailing by double digits with just over seven minute to play, No. 13 Kansas completed yet another monumental comeback to take down No. 20 West Virginia, 77-69, Saturday night. The Jayhawks outscored the Mountaineers, 26-8, over the final seven minutes to claim their sixth-straight win over WVU inside Allen Fieldhouse. Sophomore Udoka Azubuike led KU with 21 points, 15 of which came in the second half.
The victory gave Kansas (21-6, 10-4 Big 12) 10 league wins for the 24th-straight season.
One year and four days after the Jayhawks erased a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes to turn back WVU, the visiting Mountaineers again appeared to be primed to claim their first-ever victory in Lawrence. The visitors connected on a season-high 13 3-pointers and saw their lead grow to 12 points with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game. But once again, Kansas spoiled West Virginia’s visit with another valiant comeback.
Daxter Miles Jr.’s career-high fifth 3-pointer of the night gave WVU its largest lead of the night at 58-46 with just over 10 minutes to play in the game. But Kansas answered with an 11-3 run, highlighted by an Azubuike dunk and a pair of free throws, and the Jayhawks had quickly cut their deficit to four points at 61-57.
A lay-up from Jevon Carter, followed shortly by Miles’ sixth three-pointer of the game, got the momentum back in the hands of the Mountaineers at the 3:47 mark. But senior Devonte’ Graham answered with a three of his own 13 seconds later and the KU offense was suddenly ignited.
The Jayhawks got a stop on WVU’s ensuing possession, and Azubuike came down the floor and muscled his way to another dunk to pull KU within three, 66-63.
On the Mountaineers’ next trip down the floor, Azubuike came up big again, swatting another Carter shot attempt for his second of three blocks on the night. KU quickly came down to the other end, and Malik Newman buried a transition 3-pointer from the right corner to tie the game at 66, bringing the 16,300 inside Allen Fieldhouse into a frenzy with 2:13 to play.
Another defensive stop resulted in Svi Mykhailiuk being fouled as he pulled down a defensive rebound. The senior converted on both charities and gave his team its first lead since the early moments of the second half. Kansas went on to connect on nine of its 10 free throw attempts in the final two minutes of regulation and complete a 19-3 run over the last 3:33 of the game.
The strong finish by the Jayhawk offense was a far cry from how KU began the night. KU needed over three minutes to tally its first field goal, but kept up with a hot-shooting Mountaineer squad during the early portions of the contest. Lagerald Vick paced the Jayhawks in those early minutes, scoring 10 of his team’s first 19 points. A pair of Vick free throws at the 9:36 mark gave KU a 19-18 lead, but the Mountaineers responded. A 12-5 WVU spurt, which included back-to-back 3-pointers from Daxter Miles Jr., and Carter, gave the visitors their largest lead of the first half at 30-24 with five minutes before the intermission.
Four-straight points from Azubuike, followed by a Marcus Garrett three highlighted a strong closing stretch for KU that saw it tie the game before the teams headed to the locker rooms. The Jayhawks and Mountaineers got to the break deadlocked at 34, just the second time this season KU has been level at halftime.
KU’s early-half shooting woes continued in the second. After Azubuike gave the Jayhawks a 36-34 lead less than 30 seconds in, the Jayhawks went cold, going more than six minutes without a field goal. Meanwhile, it seemed as though the Mountaineers couldn’t miss, especially from long range. To go along with its six first-half 3-pointers, WVU connected on 3-of-4 from long range in that six-minute stretch to tally its first double-digit lead of the game. WVU led, 50-40, with just over 14 minutes remaining.
The Jayhawks cut it to six points with another Azubuike lay-in followed by a Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk steal and dunk, but the outside shooting from West Virginia snuffed out the Jayhawk momentum. After another pair of WVU 3-pointers within 90 seconds of each other, KU found itself in its largest deficit of the evening at 12 points.
From there, though, KU held the Mountaineers to just three field goals over the final seven minutes to stage another double-digit comeback against WVU. It marked the fourth time in their last eight outings with West Virginia that the Jayhawks have come from behind to win after trailing by double figures.
For the second-straight game Azubuike led Kansas, scoring 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. Graham added 15 points, nine of which came from the free-throw line, and tied a career-high with eight rebounds. Vick and Newman joined their teammates in double figures, scoring 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Kansas will face its second-straight ranked opponent when it plays host to No. 23/23 Oklahoma on ESPN Big Monday, Feb. 19, at 8 p.m. (Central). The contest will be the third of four ESPN Big Monday appearances for Kansas this season. The Jayhawks are 2-0 on ESPN Big Monday this season with wins at West Virginia (1/15) and at Kansas State (1/29). Kansas is 146-67 all-time against Oklahoma, including a 74-16 record in games played in Lawrence (47-7 in Allen Fieldhouse). OU won the first 2017-18 battle, 85-80, on Jan. 23 in Norman.
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