KU proves its doubters (me) wrong

By Steve Sell
January 16, 2018

In this very space 24 hours ago, I gave the Kansas Jayhawks about as much of a chance of winning on Monday at West Virginia as I would have taking on Treg Fawl on the golf course.

In other words, no chance.

Everything seemingly was working against the Jayhawks:

1) They had lost four straight games in Morgantown.

2) The Mountaineers’ strengths were the Jayhawks’ weaknesses. West Virginia was a dominating team off the glass and KU seemingly treated rebounds as though they were the plague.

3) Kansas was coming off two harrowing games at home against Iowa State and Kansas State, allowing more doubt to creep in that KU’s 13-year stranglehold on the Big 12 title is about to end. West Virginia was mad with anger, letting one get away at Texas Tech and ready to take it out on KU.

OK, one game doesn’t make a season. But the team that allegedly is the softest in Bill Self’s tenure (his words) grew up Monday night.

It sure didn’t start out that way. “Press Virginia” had KU sped up so much that its heads were spinning. Malik Newman played like he’d never seen pressure defense before. Svi couldn’t find the basket. The Jayhawks had 9 turnovers in 11 minutes and at the glass, it was a Mountaineer block party as Sagaba Konate was throwing every Jayhawk drive to the basket into the front row, and Udoka Azubuike spent most of the half on the bench with two fouls, one being a game-changing technical.

It was 41-28 WVA at the half and it should have been much worse. The Mountaineers were inside the Jayhawks’ heads and the bloodthirsty, blue-collar crowd could sense a 20- or 25-point victory. This was going to be a statement that the king was dead and it was time for a new emperor to take the throne.

But the Jayhawks reached down deep. Very deep.

The firestarter was a Devonte’ Graham steal of heart-and-soul star Jevon Carter and subsequent layup as it stripped him of his invincibility. KU started hitting shots. Doke was back on the court and stats showed that in the minutes he played, the Jayhawks outscored the Mountaineers by 20. Safe to say they’re a better team when he’s on the floor, though Mitch Lightfoot and even Silvio De Sousa battled their tails off when called on.

Devonte’ and Svi rained 3s. It was the classic case of the bully having had his way, only to be punched in the mouth. Instead of responding, West Virginia backtracked and its swag disappeared. KU didn’t turn it over much after the break and once it applied its pressure, WVA crumbled.

It was a stunning reversal and Mountaineer fans have taken to Twitter to absolutely roast their team. Remember, they lost on Saturday to Texas Tech after leading much of the game and they have seen this situation play out before.

To that I say chill. West Virginia is going to be right there at the end with KU and Oklahoma, while I look for Texas Tech to, at some point, start to drift back into the pack.

The formula to capture the Big 12 is win at home and get what you can on the road. But with wins at Texas, TCU and West Virginia, maybe the Jayhawks are reversing the trend. They seemingly have played their best basketball away from Allen Field House, where even in victory they have struggled. Maybe they relax too much, thinking they can rely on the Phog Magic to carry them to wins.

So, at least for one game, put away those theories of this team being too soft. Sometimes a team draws a line in the sand. Maybe for KU this was it. Baylor comes to town on Saturday and the Jayhawks have to start playing well at home. They really can’t afford to lose another conference game at Allen, though they still have West Virginia and Oklahoma having dates in Lawrence.

KU is now a half-game up on Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Funny how things always seem to work out, with Kansas the benefactor.