‘Can’t even describe it’: KU basketball rallies, stuns West Virginia, 71-66

No. 10 Jayhawks earn first victory in Morgantown since 2012-13 season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Despite all evidence to the contrary — and three years of personal pain in this building — Devonte’ Graham sensed the tide turning.

 

Facing a daunting hole in Monday night’s game at No. 6 West Virginia, the Kansas senior guard doubled down on that take.

“Yo, they took they foot off the gas,” Graham told his huddled teammates at the under-12 timeout, the No. 10-ranked Jayhawks down nine. “Keep chipping away. Keep chipping away.”

Graham’s teammates appeared to hear the message loud and clear, but if there was any lingering doubt, he and fellow senior Svi Mykhailiuk led with their actions, too.

There’d be no more heartbreak here.

KU rallied from a 12-point deficit with eight and a half minutes to play to defeat West Virginia, 71-66, and earn the program’s first victory at WVU Coliseum since the 2012-13 campaign. Graham and Mykhailiuk took over down the stretch, scoring 20 of 24 team points in a run that saw the Jayhawks (15-3, 5-1 Big 12) go from down 10 to up three with 89 seconds left.

“Seniors, they’ve got to step up. That’s huge,” KU coach Bill Self said. “… It was impressive watching them out there. They both wanted it bad and competed like they did.”

Graham sensed passiveness from the Mountaineers (15-3, 4-2), who shot 35.7 percent from the field in the second half and made only 1 of 13 attempts from 3-point range in the period.

“They looked like they’d relaxed a little bit,” Graham said. “We just kept making plays, kept chipping away and you could tell the crowd was getting nervous.”

Mykhailiuk (17 points) and Graham (16 points), meanwhile, combined to drain each of KU’s final three attempts from 3.

“Can’t even describe it,” Graham said of the victory. “When you don’t win somewhere your whole career and then you get the last one here, for both of us, it’s just huge for us. I’m real excited and just happy for the team. We battled tonight. It showed us a lot we can improve on, and if we play tough, how good we can be.”

The Mountaineers pulled to within one, 67-66, on a Daxter Miles put-back of a missed free-throw attempt with a minute left. But Jevon Carter and Miles would each miss long shots from beyond the arc in WVU’s subsequent possessions, and a Mitch Lightfoot dunk and pair of Malik Newman free throws put the game out of reach.

Self, who has longed for this team to develop an identity all season, said one game doesn’t establish a group’s persona. He is, however, hopeful it’s a step in the right direction.

“It’s unbelievable: We’ve always thought in order for us to win we’ve got to make shots, and I’ve actually thought it too,” Self said. “Tonight that was not the case. I’ll leave out of here much happier with our performance because the way we did it is the way we need to learn it.”

KU did it largely without 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike, who fouled out in 20 minutes yet still produced 10 points and nine rebounds in his limited showing. And the Jayhawks overcame five first-half blocks from WVU forward Sagaba Konate, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds but collected no second-half swats.

Esa Ahmad (15 points) and Carter (14 points) rounded out the double-digit scorers for the Mountaineers, who actually committed more turnovers (16) than the Jayhawks (13). KU protected the ball in the second half, committing only four giveaways versus “Press Virginia.”

Of all the teams KU has brought to Morgantown these last four years — two eventual No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament and two No. 2 seeds — Self admitted he was a little surprised this was the squad that overcame the Mountaineer hump, though he made sure to note the quality of WVU coach Bob Huggins’ squads over that period too.

“We grinded. We got some breaks,” Self said. “… We didn’t play great, but when you try real hard and compete you put yourself in position to maybe make a couple plays late. Svi and Devonte’ made a ton of plays late.”

After the game, it was Graham leading a raucous visiting locker room in an impromptu dance routine. Azubuike flashed the “Kansas” across the front of his jersey at a team camera. Self walked into the locker room with a wide smile and both arms raised in victory, a box score detailing the triumph in his left hand.

As for what this victory signifies to the rest of the Big 12, a league with nine members scrambling to prevent what would be KU’s national-record-breaking 14th consecutive conference championship?

Well, forgive Graham for leaving it to them to sort that out.

“I don’t really care what it tells them,” Graham said. “It’s just what we needed to know for ourselves, that we could play tough and grind and when we’re not making shots we can defend and rebound and play with anybody anywhere.”

No. 10 KANSAS 71, No. 6 WEST VIRGINIA 66

KANSAS (15-3)

Azubuike 5-5 0-1 10, Mykhailiuk 5-12 4-4 17, Garrett 1-4 0-0 2, Graham 5-9 3-5 16, Newman 2-9 4-6 9, Lightfoot 3-7 0-0 6, De Sousa 1-1 0-0 2, Vick 4-12 0-0 9. Totals 26-59 11-16 71.

WEST VIRGINIA (15-3)

Harris 1-4 1-1 3, West 3-10 0-0 7, Konate 7-10 2-3 16, Miles 4-11 0-0 9, Carter 4-15 4-4 14, Bender 1-1 0-0 2, Ahmad 5-8 4-4 15, Bolden 0-2 0-0 0, Harler 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-62 11-12 66.

Halftime - West Virginia 41-28. 3-Point Goals - Kansas 8-23 (Mykhailiuk 3-6, Graham 3-6, Newman 1-4, Vick 1-6, Garrett 0-1), West Virginia 5-27 (Carter 2-8, Ahmad 1-3, Miles 1-6, West 1-7, Bolden 0-1, Harris 0-2). Fouled Out - Azubuike. Rebounds - Kansas 33 (Azubuike 9), West Virginia 35 (Konate 10). Assists - Kansas 15 (Graham 6), West Virginia 9 (Miles, Carter 4). Total Fouls - Kansas 14, West Virginia 19. Technicals - Azubuike. A - 14,115 (14,000).

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