When the No. 14 West Virginia University men’s basketball team played No. 3 Kansas the first time this season, the Mountaineers had the Jayhawks on the ropes but let them off the hook.
WVU led by 10 points in the first half and six at halftime before losing 60-53 to KU last month at Allen Fieldhouse.
Now, with the return bout set for Wednesday in Morgantown (7 p.m. streaming only on ESPN+), Kansas coach Bill Self thinks this is a different West Virginia team than the one he saw in January.
“Regardless of who they have out there, they do a great job hawking the ball,” Self said. “I think they’re pressuring and pressing more than what they did the first time we played. They keep their bodies fresh, they hawk the ball and they’re certainly talented enough that they can get their own late in the clock. They’re a quick and athletic team that resembles West Virginia three years ago and two years ago a lot more today than when we played them the first time.”
The Mountaineers (18-5, 6-4 Big 12) have been unbeatable at home this season and historically good against Kansas inside the WVU Coliseum. West Virginia owns a 5-2 record against the Jayhawks in Morgantown and have won five of the last six against KU on its home court. Both of those streaks will be put to the test when KU visits Wednesday. The No. 3 Jayhawks feature the Big 12’s leading scorer in guard Devon Dotson (18 points per game) and the league’s leading rebounder in forward Udoka Azubuike (9.7 rebounds per game). Since its January win against WVU, Kansas is 9-1 with the only loss coming against No. 1 Baylor.
After the first game, both Self and Azubuike heaped praise on WVU freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe, and with good reason. Tshiebwe gave the Jayhawks big problems in the first half last time before finishing with 17 points and 17 rebounds.
KU, however, does have some insight into Tshiebwe’s game beyond what it saw in person last month. Kansas sophomore forward David McCormack, who averages 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this season, played on an AAU team in Virginia with Tshiebwe prior to college.
“We just have to make sure we get into him early,” McCormack told the Kansas City Star this week. “We have to make sure he doesn’t feel comfortable. We can’t let him get to the scoring area. We have to make sure if there’s a loose ball he doesn’t get his hands on it first.”
“Oscar is athletic, can dunk everything, is a shot blocker.”
Kansas (20-3, 9-1 Big 12) has been playing at a high level in recent weeks but needs all the wins it can get to keep pace with first-place Baylor in the race for the Big 12’s regular season championship and the No. 1 seed in next month’s conference tournament in Kansas City. The Mountaineers come into Wednesday’s contest off a loss at Oklahoma — WVU’s fourth consecutive road loss in Big 12 play. West Virginia needs wins as well to stay among the league’s top four teams, which all get to avoid an extra game in the conference tournament.
Bob Huggins has not been happy with his team even after wins in recent weeks, and has not been shy about showing it. The veteran coach said during his postgame radio interview following the loss at Oklahoma that his team has a bad attitude, even going as far as to say that a player missed the bus for the game (though he did not say which player).
Huggins has tired of excuses when the Mountaineers are slumping. Youth? Huggins isn’t buying it. The Mountaineers have an effort and attitude problem, according to Huggins. With No. 3 Kansas on deck next and a trip to No. 1 Baylor looming this weekend, Huggins said it is time for his team to get its mind right.
“We’re good enough to beat anybody in the country if we have the right frame of mind,” Huggins said Saturday. “Somehow, we’ve got to have the right frame of mind.”