LAWRENCE, Kan. — West Virginia guard Eron Harris had just made two free throws to trim Kansas’ once double-digit lead to four and flapped his arms toward the crowd as if to call for more noise.
At that moment, with 5:14 to play, the once-deafening roar inside Allen Fieldhouse was more of a nervous rumble as West Virginia mounted a late charge.
“We had the game right where we wanted it,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said.
Well, not exactly. Because the No. 8-ranked Jayhawks — as they had all game — responded with an answer, this time in the form of a whirlwind run that clinched an 83-69 victory over the Mountaineers on Saturday.
Too much size, too much depth, too much everything.
“If you’d have told me before the game that we’d have to fight our butts off to win by 14,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, “I would say we’d have to play pretty well.”
With Kansas clinging to a 69-65 lead, Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins made one of two free throws, but center Joel Embiid snatched the offense board and hit two foul shots of his own.
After guard Juwan Staten made a free throw to pull West Virginia back within 72-66, Embiid slammed in a dunk off a lob, Kansas guard Naadir Tharpe nailed a 3-pointer after a turnover and Jayhawks guard Wayne Selden buried a jumper as part of Kansas’ back-breaking 12-1 run.
“It seemed like there was nothing we could do about it,” Harris said.
Overall, there was little the Mountaineers could do to stop Wiggins and the Jayhawks’ potent stable of forwards.
Wiggins scored a team-high 19 points, Selden added 17, and forward Tarik Black and Embiid spearheaded Kansas’ dominant post attack with 11 points apiece.
The Jayhawks, who improved to 18-5 overall and 9-1 atop the Big 12, scored at will in the post all afternoon for a whopping 46 points in the paint, 30 of which came in the opening half.
Black and forward Jamari Traylor — dubbed by some as the ‘Bruise Brothers’ — did the brunt of the early damage off the bench, combining with forward Perry Ellis to go 8 of 9 from the floor for 19 first-half points.
“It’s a cool nickname and it fits us,” Black said. “We go out there and play hard. We do, however, have more than just the two of us. I’m surrounded by players who play physically. We have a lot more people to add to that nickname.”
Kansas’ depth — Black, Traylor and guard Frank Mason — helped negate early fouls charged to Embiid, Ellis, Selden and Tharpe.
“If you’re going to pick three guys for who’s the most valuable player, I would take Frank, Jamari and Tarik,” Self said. “They were great in the first half.”
What proved a luxury for Self was a sore point for Huggins. Though Staten (22 points) and Harris (17 points) carried the load for WVU, forward Remi Debo (1 of 7 from behind the arc) and guard Terry Henderson (two points in 22 minutes) were virtual non-factors.
And when the Mountaineers (14-10, 6-5) were not giving up layups to the Jayhawks’ bigs, they were fouling. West Virginia committed 26 fouls and watched as Kansas bury 23 of 34 free throws.
“We just had some guys that didn’t play well today,” Huggins said. “But that happens sometimes. That may be another argument that we need more depth.”
That was not much of a problem in the first half, when Harris carried the offensive load and splashed in three straight treys to give West Virginia a 20-17 lead with 11:33 left.
The Mountaineers eventually built a 30-27 lead — their largest of the game — only to have the Jayhawks close the half with a 15-6 run, punctuated with Wiggins’ putback dunk as time expired.
While Kansas continued to get what it wanted on offense, West Virginia struggled. Wiggins smothered Harris, who missed all four of his second-half shots from the field after posting 13 points before halftime.
“After he hit those three 3s, I had to guard him closer and be more aggressive,” Wiggins said. “I tried to turn him into a driver instead of a shooter.”
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