Jayhawks fly past West Virginia to win Big 12 Tournament crown
KANSAS CITY – Five Jayhawks in double figures, including a team-high 20 points from redshirt-sophomore Malik Newman, lifted the No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks to the Big 12 Championship title, 81-70, over No. 18 West Virginia Saturday night inside Sprint Center. The Jayhawks, who shot a blistering 72 percent from the field in the second half including nine 3-pointers, claimed their 11th Big 12 postseason championship.
The victory moved Kansas to 27-7 and gave KU 27 wins for the fourth-straight season and the 11th time in the last 12 seasons.
After averaging 24 points over the three games of the tournament, which included a 68.2 percent (15-22) clip from 3-point range, Newman was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in addition to earning a spot on the All-Tournament Team. Devonte’ Graham joined Newman, earning a spot on the All-Tournament team for the second time, after averaging a double-double in the three-day event with 14.3 points and 10.0 assists per game.
Down by seven points with 9:37 remaining in the game, the KU offense ignited for one of the most prolific shooting stretches in recent memory. The Jayhawks connected on nine of their final 11 shots from the field, four of which were from 3-point range, to storm past the Mountaineers. The hot shooting helped KU put together a 25-7 final run, closing out its third win in three days and its 15th overall league postseason tournament title.
The game started at an intense pace that matched the electric atmosphere inside Sprint Center, with the teams trading dunks and 3-pointers in the early minutes. West Virginia was led by Daxter Miles, who notched all of his team’s first eight points, while the Jayhawks used a group effort to keep pace with the Mountaineers.
Five different Jayhawks entered the scoresheet before seven minutes could tick off the clock, including a trio of Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk 3-pointers that helped the Jayhawks build a 20-14 lead by the 10:22 mark.
It didn’t take long, however, for the Mountaineers to exploit the absence of Kansas’ 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike, who was sidelined with a knee injury. WVU’s sophomore forward Sagaba Konate scored eight points in the first 11 minutes. A 10-0 West Virginia spurt during a four-minute Kansas scoring drought saw the No. 3 seed take a 26-21 advantage with 6:25 left in the opening period.
Newman got KU out of that scoring drought with his second three of the night just a minute later and began an impressive KU stretch to close the half. Newman connected on another from deep and Silvio De Sousa added five points over the final 3:35, which included an emphatic alley-oop dunk just before the halftime buzzer to pull KU to within a point, 34-33, by the intermission.
The Jayhawks regained the lead just 20 seconds into the second half when Graham got into the lane for a floater. Mykhailiuk hit his fourth 3-pointer of the game on the Jayhawks’ next possession and KU led, 38-36, after the first minute.
But West Virginia’s Miles again took over. The senior guard scored 11 points during a 15-5 Mountaineer run that saw WVU build a 51-43 lead over the next four minutes.
Kansas managed to shoot its way right back into the game. After Vick and Mykhailiuk each connected on jumpers, Graham swished back-to-back threes to complete a 10-0 KU run and get the Jayhawks back out in front, 53-51, still with more than 12 minutes remaining.
West Virginia again had an answer. Javon Carter and Miles each sank 3-pointers in the midst of a 12-3 stretch that again seemed to hand all the momentum back to the Mountaineers and put them up by seven points, 63-56, with 9:56 to play in regulation.
Little did the blue-and-gold-clad players know that another massive KU run was on its way. This time it would be one from which West Virginia could not recover.
Lagerald Vick kicked off the incredible shooting stretch with his second three of the contest and the KU offense was off and running. De Sousa followed with an alley-oop dunk and Graham got in the lane to score two of his own on the next possession. Newman rattled in a long 3-pointer 43 seconds later and KU led, 66-63, with seven minutes to play.
Despite Miles’ hitting his fifth and final 3-pointer on WVU’s next trip down the floor, KU continued to roll. De Sousa responded with a tip in on a feed from Graham. Ninety seconds later Graham hit a three-pointer from NBA range and Newman followed, stunning West Virginia with his season-best sixth three of the night. Those back-to-back treys moved Kansas ahead, 76-68, with just over three minutes to play, and the Jayhawks cruised to the victory from there.
A breakaway alley-oop slam from Mykhailiuk with 30 seconds left put an exclamation point on the victory. KU closed the game with 15 three-pointers, a mark that tied the single-game Big 12 Tournament record, and shot 72 percent in the second half.
Newman was one of five Jayhawks to score in double figures, netting 20 points on another impressive shooting exhibition, going 6-of-8 from 3-point range. Graham added 18 points to go along with a career-high 13 assists, his fifth double-double of the season. De Sousa and Mykhailiuk each contributed 16 points, while De Sousa’s 10 rebounds gave him his first-career double-double. Vick rounded out the Jayhawks in double figures with 10 points, eight of which came in the second half.
Kansas will learn its NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday, March 11. TBS will televise the selections from 5-7 p.m. (Central). Kansas will be making its 47th NCAA Tournament appearance, including its NCAA record 29th in a row, a streak which started in 1990.
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