MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One might surmise starting four guards, all adept at ball handling, will bode well for Kansas in its attempt to end a four-game losing streak at “Press Virginia.”
Don’t count Bill Self among that group.
“You could take Frank (Mason), and he handles it better than all the other four guys combined almost, and we’ve had problems going up there with that,” Self said ahead of the 8 p.m. Monday showdown. “But you would think a formula would be multiple ball handlers — you would think that.”
The No. 12-ranked Jayhawks (14-3, 4-1 Big 12) haven’t won at WVU Coliseum since Jan. 28, 2013. Back then, Ben McLemore was enjoying a productive one-and-done season, Andrew White was playing for the first of his three college programs and KU escaped with a 61-56 victory, powered by 15-point outputs by Travis Releford and Jeff Withey. It was the final victory in an 18-game winning streak that season and the last ahead of a three-game losing streak, still the last time the Jayhawks have dropped three straight.
Here’s a look at what’s gone wrong for KU in the four subsequent trips to Morgantown:
West Virginia 92, No. 8 Kansas 86 — The NIT-bound Mountaineers withstood a 41-point effort from Andrew Wiggins in WVU’s first-ever victory over KU. The one-and-done freshman had his most sensational outing as a Jayhawk, adding eight rebounds, four blocks and five steals, and KU cut a 17-point deficit with just over four minutes left to four, but Wiggins fouled out and the Jayhawks came up short.
No. 23 West Virginia 62, No. 8 Kansas 61 — Juwan Staten’s layup with four seconds left and his get-back defense on Perry Ellis on the other end during the Jayhawks’ last possession lifted the Mountaineers to victory and secured their first 20-win campaign in four seasons. Ellis missed a layup off the back of the rim at the buzzer.
No. 11 West Virginia 74, No. 1 Kansas 63 — A brutal snowstorm and late arrival to WVU Coliseum via police escort was only the beginning of a bad evening for the Jayhawks, who committed 22 turnovers — seven from Mason — in the defeat. Jaysean Paige scored a game-high 26 points off the bench and had 14 of the Mountaineers’ 33 free-throw makes.
No. 18 West Virginia 85, No. 2 Kansas 69 — This time it was the Mountaineers putting an end to an 18-game winning streak, handing the Jayhawks their first defeat since a season-opening loss to Indiana. Esa Ahmad scored 27 points for WVU, which blew a double-digit lead but recovered to win on a late 12-1 run. KU earned plenty of revenge, though, in its historic comeback less than three weeks later at Allen Fieldhouse.
A veteran of three of those defeats, senior point guard Devonte’ Graham is hoping to accomplish one of the few things the national player of the year Mason couldn’t during his time at KU — a victory over No. 2 WVU (15-2, 4-1) in Morgantown.
“It’s going to be a big one,” Graham said. “Hopefully we can come out with a ‘W,’ because I don’t want to go 0 for 4 there.
“I think everybody’s just got to come with an aggressive mindset. I feel like the way they play and press, we’ve got a lot of guys that can attack ’em and probably get them in foul trouble or just make plays for each other. We’ve got to take care of the ball.”
The Jayhawks have actually done a decent job on that last point in recent years. Outside of the 22-turnover mishap, KU has committed no more than 14 giveaways in its other three road defeats at West Virginia.
Avoiding foul trouble or fatigue will be key for Graham, the Jayhawks’ lone point guard and most durable player at 35.6 minutes per game. Averaging 7.4 assists, he is unquestionably KU’s facilitator, and Self expects WVU to try to coax Graham into fouling much in the same way Kansas State did in Saturday’s contest.
“With (Jevon) Carter and (Daxter) Miles out there, they create so much havoc,” Self said. “Then the way you look at it, OK, if they take Graham out, then you’re putting the ball in somebody else’s hands that really hasn’t had the ball in his hands all year long, too. So we’ve got to come up with some stuff.”
Only one off-day to prepare for the unique Mountaineers seems less than ideal. KU practiced inbounding against a press for 30 minutes last week and had another 30-minute practice Sunday to focus on the same subject. Coming off three consecutive victories by a combined 10 points, one might also conclude the Jayhawks will at least have a battle-tested edge versus the Mountaineers, who came out on the wrong end of a 72-71 outcome Saturday at Texas Tech.
Again, don’t consider Self part of that crowd.
“You could say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s great,’ and then you could say, ‘Oh God, we’re tired.’ I mean, who knows,” Self said. “I think, with this group, I haven’t really seen much correlation between practicing and playing, nor what happens one game that would lead you to expect to happen the next game.
“It’ll be a fun atmosphere though. Our guys like those.”
NO. 12 KANSAS AT NO. 2 WEST VIRGINIA
Tipoff: 8 p.m. Monday, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W.Va.
Line: West Virginia by 4
TV/Radio: ESPN/KWIC-FM (99.3)
Topeka Jayhawk Club watch party: Lazy Toad
Next: vs. Baylor, 1 p.m. Saturday, Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
NO. 12 KANSAS (14-3, 4-1 Big 12)
P Player … Ht. … Cl. … Pts. … Reb.
C Udoka Azubuike … 7-0 … So. … 14.7 … 7.7
G Lagerald Vick … 6-5 … Jr. … 14.9 … 6.0
G Svi Mykhailiuk … 6-8 … Sr. … 16.5 … 3.8
G Malik Newman … 6-3 … So. … 10.7 … 4.5
G Devonte’ Graham … 6-2 … Sr. … 18.4 … 7.4*
* — Assists
NO. 2 WEST VIRGINIA (15-2, 4-1 Big 12)
P Player … Ht. … Cl. … Pts. … Reb.
F Lamont West … 6-8 … So. … 12.3 … 5.4
F Sagaba Konate … 6-8 … So. … 8.9 … 7.8
F Wesley Harris … 6-8 … So. … 6.2 … 4.6
G Daxter Miles … 6-3 … Sr. … 13.2 … 3.6*
G Jevon Carter … 6-2 … Sr. … 16.8 … 6.5*
* — Assists