The Kansas Jayhawks had already clinched the Big 12 regular season crown when they traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers. The home team was sitting at 16 and 14 going into the matchup and had a ton of work to do to get back into the NCAA picture. Early on in it was clear Bob Huggins had his team prepared to do just that.
In the first half alone the Mountaineers scored 50 points! Paced by shooting four out of five from downtown while taking good care of the ball, the Jayhawks seemed to have no answer. The only Jayhawk who came to play was the infamous Andrew Wiggins. 17 points from the prized freshman in the first twenty minutes paced Kansas. West Virginia was led by 16 from Devin Williams and 14 for Juwan Staten.
It was quite an impressive start by the Mountaineers. They seemed hungry to give their seniors a memorable last game in front of the WVU Coliseum crowd. They looked in sync and confident. Even still I felt a Kansas run coming. I did not have any particularly logical reason for this, just one of those gut feelings you get when watching a sporting event.
Give credit to Huggins though because his team was certainly ready to answer the bell for the second half. After a twelve to one run in the first 2:45, Bill Self was forced to take his last timeout. That’s right, his last time out. The score was now 61 to 39, there was 17:15 remaining in the game, and Kansas had no timeouts. No one saw this coming. The Jayhawks simply looked flat and sorry for themselves. Meanwhile, on CBS Kentucky was making a run at Florida from a big deficit so I thought about changing over the channel. For some reason, that visceral feeling I had continued, I did not yet feel like the Jayhawks were dead.
Then, after the under 16 time out as the players walked back onto the court I realized what I was feeling. Andrew Wiggins had that look in his eyes. It was the angry look that really good players get when they are going to take over a game. Yes, his team was down 24. Yes, his team had no timeouts left. Yes, Kansas could not stop a runny nose on defense. But for some reason none of that mattered to me, I just could not bring myself to change the channel.
Wiggins scored Kansas’ next seven points, and after an old-fashioned three points play by Perry Ellis it was now a 17 point game with 12:52 to play. Give credit to West Virginia, for they were not playing lackadaisical in a game with a large disparity. They were attacking the Kansas defense with dribble penetration and with just as much audacity the offensive boards. The Jayhawks could not get defensive stops and the lead opened back up to 22 and later was at 19 when the under eight television timeout came.
At this point the announcers praised Bob Huggins for a great home win against a top ten team. Kansas had lost their chance at top seed in the Big Dance. The crowd thought it was over too as it seemed like a celebration. For some reason I still could not convince myself to turn on a different game. I was waiting for Wiggins to show me something.
And finally, with exactly seven minutes left, it happened. The West Virginia bench picked up a technical foul. Wiggins made the pair of free throws and then was fouled again eight seconds later. He made both of those. After a Mountaineer timeout and missed shot, Wiggins came down and hit a three pointer with 6:24 on the clock. Seven points in thirty seconds and it was a ten point game.
West Virginia’s resiliency was on full display though as they opened it back up to a seventeen point game once again with 4:19 to play. Wiggins would respond with another seven points in the next minute to make it in eight point game. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 14 points in a span of four minutes. Finally, his teammates were playing inspired. A Tarik Black put back and a Frank Mason three and the Jayhawks had made it a five point game at 85 to 80 with 55 seconds to play.
Yet once again, West Virginia deserves a huge amount of praise for not letting the game get away from them. Momentum had completely swung and Kansas would eventually make it a four point game with 11 seconds to play, but the Mountaineers made their free throws, stayed composed, and finished the deal.
The final score ended up being 92 to 86 in favor of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Devin Williams, Juwan Staten, and Eron Harris all finished with 20 plus points (22, 24, and 28 respectively). Each made big free throws down the stretch. This was a great team win for them and nothing can take that away. Huggins and company now have something to play for in Kansas City next weekend. Who knows if a trip to the Big 12 title game will be enough for an at large big, but without an upset against Kansas it would have been impossible.
As for Wiggins, he was remarkable. He shot 12 of 18 from the field and 15 of 19 from the foul line. He finished with 41 points, eight rebounds, five steals, four blocks, and a pair of assists. The rest of his team shot 16 of 44 and only made it to the free throw line 13 times. Clearly the Jayhawks were missing their star big man, Joel Embiid, who did not make the trip to Morgantown with the team due to a back injury. They definitely struggled guarding the shifty West Virginia guards and the perimeter defense must get better. Rebounding also will have to be improved in order to make it to Dallas for the Final 4.
None of this should mask the show Andrew Wiggins put on however. The freshman phenom, who was compared to LeBron James before graduating high school, has had to deal with unreachable expectations. Imagine someone telling you that the standards of your success in the workplace would be you being the best in the world. Leading Kansas, the Big 12 regular season champions, in scoring and being the likely choice for conference rookie of the year is almost considered a failure. Even in a loss, Wiggins has earned the right to silence all of his critics. At least for a day or two.