KU made comeback for the ages

By Steve Sell
February 14, 2017

With just under 3 minutes left in the game and the Kansas Jayhawks trailing West Virginia by 14 on Monday, famed basketball announcer Dick Vitale was chastising those normally cerebral KU fans who were streaming to the exits.

Vitale said a true KU fan would never give up on their team, no matter how dire the situation looked.

And this was dire, not to mention downright impossible.

West Virginia appeared to be poised to sweep the regular-season series with the Jayhawks as it had simply out-toughed KU for 38 minutes. The Mountaineers' pressure defense had locked up Kansas guards Frank Mason and Devonte' Graham, whose games were out of sorts and the Jayhawks seemed to have legs of rubber as the game neared the 15th round.

But with the flip of a switch, not to mention a ramping up of defensive pressure, the Jayhawks got off the canvas and stunningly erased the deficit, then defeated the crestfallen Mountaineers 84-80 in overtime.

This is why KU is on the verge of winning or sharing its 13th straight Big 12 title, an unfathomable feat.

KU had not lost back-to-back home games since Roy Williams' first year in the 1988-89 season. Bill Self, obviously then, had never lost twice in a row at the Phog.

But West Virginia had this game won. In the bag, Fat Lady singing and all of that.

Not only was KU down, it was in terrible foul trouble. Svi Mykhailiuk and Carlton Bragg, both of whom performed disappearing acts on Monday, had already been disqualified. Given KU only normally plays seven, this was a serious problem.

Mason looked like he was dead on his feet. Landen Lucas couldn't make a free throw and Josh Jackson couldn't make a layup.

And still KU found a way to win.

I've watched KU basketball for 50 years. The comeback against Memphis in the NCAA championship game was much more important, but this was the most monumental in terms of the margin. Kansas outscored West Virginia 21-7 in less than 3 minutes, then scored the first 8 points of the overtime to build up enough of a pad that no many how many free throws it missed it wouldn't cost it the game.

How exhausting was this game? Mason played 43 minutes, Graham 42 and Jackson 41. That's after they had played nearly the entire game on Saturday in a draining one-point survival of Texas Tech.

This isn't Bill Self's best team, not by a long shot. The starting five generally has to do it all, though Legerald Vick stepped up with 14 points before fouling out. It can't shoot free throws and makes more turnovers than you would expect since there are four guards on the floor.

But you can't teach heart. And KU has plenty of it.