West Virginia falls short in comeback attempt vs. No. 1 Kansas
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 07:01
West Virginia head basketball coach Bob Huggins has berated his team all season for its inability to compete.
The Mountaineers managed to finally do that Monday night against No. 1 Kansas at the WVU Coliseum but still couldn’t pick up the all-important win, as WVU dropped its sixth game in its last eight contests, falling 61-56 to the Jayhawks in the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
Junior center Aaric Murray led all scorers with 17 points to go along with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 27 minutes off the bench for WVU, while sophomore point guard Juwan Staten returned to the starting lineup with 10 points of his own for the Mountaineers, but it still wasn’t enough.
"I guess we just lost our focus and stopped running our plays," Murray said after the game.
Redshirt seniors Travis Releford and Jeff Withey had 15 each to lead Kansas, and redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore chipped in 13, despite getting into foul trouble early on.
West Virginia has now lost five of its first seven conference games during its inaugural season in the Big 12.
Kansas, on the other hand, has won 18 straight games (including seven consecutive conference contests) since falling to Michigan State in its second game of the year. "Kansas is good," Huggins said. "It’s not like they’re one of those teams that plays nobody in the preseason and gets ranked. Bill does a great job. I think they’ve got the best of both worlds, really. They’ve got experience, and they’ve got youthful enthusiasm."
With the loss, the Mountaineers are now 3-7 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in at least one national poll, and 2-12 all-time under Huggins against teams in the Top 5.
Huggins is also now 0-5 all-time against the Jayhawks, including three games at Kansas State and one at the helm of Cincinnati.
"I’m not big on losing," Huggins said. "What could we have done? We could have run what we were supposed to run in the fashion that it was supposed to be run.
"I just never know what we’re going to do. (It) seems like we’ve made shots; we missed free throws. When the offense kind of ran, we didn’t guard."
Still, it wasn’t quite the blowout most analysts had it pegged as heading into the game.
West Virginia trailed by only a single basket with barely more than 10 minutes remaining in the game, but Kansas was ultimately just too tough defensively down the stretch and held WVU to just 10 total points during the last 10 minutes of the game.
Rebounding was, again, a huge factor in West Virginia’s fifth conference loss of the year, as the Jayhawks outrebounded the Mountaineers 36-29 Monday night.
WVU is now just a woeful 1-9 when being outrebounded by its opponent. The last time West Virginia played a No. 1 team was UConn in 2006, and its last win against a top-ranked opponent came in 1983 against UNLV.
"What kills us is execution – execution down the stretch," Huggins said. "Honestly, when they picked us sixth, I said ‘there’s no way we’re going to be sixth.’ I mean, our seniors are going to step up, because our seniors always have stepped up. Obviously, you think your freshmen are going to get better. And the three transfers are going to come in and really add to our program.
"And the reality is, probably none of that has happened. So now, we’re 2-5. People don’t want to hear that, but that’s the gospel truth. That’s what’s happened."
Monday’s recorded attendance of 12,402 marked the best crowd at a home WVU game this year.
West Virginia’s starting lineup of Staten, Gary Browne, Eron Harris, Deniz Kilicli and Dominique Rutledge was the 11th different lineup combination Huggins has employed in 20 games this season.