LAWRENCE, Kan. — Games between the West Virginia University men’s basketball team and Kansas played on the Jayhawks’ home court have, almost without expection, followed a certain script.
On Saturday at KU’s Allen Fieldhouse, that was the case yet again.
WVU led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but poor shooting along with a poor run at the foul line and a rejuvenated bunch of Kansas players led to a second-half surge by the Jayhawks and a 60-53 KU win.
The Mountaineers (11-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12) got off to a very good start Saturday in perhaps the Big 12’s most intimidating arena for visitors. Freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who played just eight minutes in last week’s win against then-No. 2 Ohio State due to foul trouble, avoid the officials’ whistles and put on a dominating performance in the game’s first 20 minutes. West Virginia led 30-24 at the break, with Tshiebwe accounting for 15 points and 10 rebounds along the way while making life tough for Kansas senior center Udoka Azubuike — the Big 12’s preseason Player of the Year.
The final few minutes of the half, however, is where the game started to turn in KU’s favor. WVU led the Jayhawks 30-20 with slightly more than three minutes remaining in the half and did not look good down the stretch as KU managed two more baskets before the break.
When the second half started, it was all Kansas, and West Virginia went from playing with a lead to scrapping to stay in the game.
“We didn’t stick to the game plan,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said after the game. “We’ve got a bunch of young guys, and we’re trying to play a bunch of guys. I think we had some combinations out there at both ends, you can’t help up. You just can’t help up or they’re going to throw it at the rim. (Azubuike) is too big and too strong. We started helping up for a lot of reasons and we didn’t do what we were planning on doing.”
Azubuike, along with guards Devon Dotson and Marcus Garrett, took over for KU in the final 20 minutes.
Tshiebwe, who had zero fouls in the first half, picked up three fouls in the first 10 minutes of the second half while WVU teammate and fellow forawrd Derek Culver struggled in both halves — finishing with five points on a 1 of 6 shooting performance to go with a 3 of 5 game at the foul line.
For Tshiebwe, going against the 7-foot, 270-pound KU center was a new experience, but one he said he can learn from. Tshiebwe has always been the biggest and strongest player on the floor during his short basketball career, but that was not the case Saturday.
“In the first half I was running, grabbing a lot of rebounds and finished — dunked the ball,” Tshiebwe said. “In the second half, I don’t know. I didn’t get that much of the ball.
“(Playing against Azubuike) was really tough. We had a little bit of trouble — if you try to help with the ball screen he slips (past you) and goes to the rim. He’s always dunking.”
The Mountaineers did manage to keep the game within a few possessions throughout the second half, but once KU took its lead down the stretch West Virginia could never quite get it back to even — in large part because of how poor WVU performed at the foul line on Saturday.
West Virginia went 12 of 22 at the stripe while Kansas connected on 19 of its 30 foul shots.
“Twelve for 22 from the free throw line,” Huggins said. “We miss both ends of a two-shot foul. It kills us.”
Tshiebwe finished as West Virginia’s leading scorer with 17 points while fellow freshman Miles “Deuce” McBride was the only other Mountaineer in double-digits for scoring with 12 points. For Kansas, Azubuike led the Jayhawks with 17 points to go with 11 rebounds while Dotson finished with 16 points and Garrett had 12 points.
‘That’s hard on officials’
Several Mountaineers were clearly frustrated with the officiating in the second half, and when asked if he pulled the players aside when things were not going their way, Huggins said he did an offered some insight into his view on how college basketball referees go about doing their job.
“I didn’t really get into the whole explanation but yeah, I talked to the players,” Huggins said. “I think the whole explanation is, and I’m not going to get into any trouble for this because this is not degrading anybody, but you’ve got three (officials) out there who all see the game differently. We’ve got 10 coaches in the league and they all see how to play basketball differently. So, you get a call on one end from a guy who really thinks he made the right call, and probably did, and then you don’t get that same call on the other end because there’s a guy down there who didn’t think that was a play-on, shouldn’t be called. You say, ‘Why are you calling it down there but you’re not calling it down here?’ — they’re not. I think that’s hard on officials. I don’t know if we’re never going to have where we have the same crew all the time, I understand that, but I just think it makes it hard on them. Then you get fans booing you when they do the replay thing because you did or you didn’t call something that the other guy either called or passed on. It happens awfully fast. It’s a hard deal. If they wouldn’t get paid so damn much, I’d feel sorry for them. But since I know what their check is, I don’t feel a bit sorry for them.