Kansas, West Virginia collide for Big12 tourney title (Mar 10, 2018)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What time it took to conduct postgame interviews following the semifinal round of the Big 12 Tournament was not long enough to soothe Bill Self.
Although the two Kansas post players filling in for injured starter Udoka Azubuike provided solid production, defense underneath was insufficient.
Oh, the No. 9 Jayhawks (26-7) prevailed 83-67, but not before Kansas State trimmed a 13-point halftime deficit to two points.
“If I sleep more than two hours tonight it will be more than I think I should after the way we played,” Self said.
Maybe so, but on Saturday, Kansas will have a chance to capture its 11th Big 12 Tournament championship after claiming the regular-season title for the 14th consecutive year. The Jayhawks will face No. 18 West Virginia (24-9), a 66-63 winner over No. 14 Texas Tech in Friday’s other semifinal.
“Whoever we play, there will be unbelievable incentive for somebody other than Kansas to win to get a championship this year,” Self said after dispatching Kansas State. “We’ve got to meet that head on, and I think we will.”
Self’s disappointment with the semifinal performance stemmed in part from Kansas State missing two injured standouts. All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade was ruled out because of an ailing foot, while shooting guard Barry Brown barely played a minute before leaving for good after being poked in the eye.
Both Wade and Brown average 16.5 points per game.
“When Barry went down, I feel like we took our foot off the gas a little bit knowing that their best two players had got hurt,” said Kansas senior point guard Devonte’ Graham. “We need to be better than that and play hard no matter who is in the game.”
Sophomore Mitch Lightfoot started in the post for the second straight game in place of Azubuike. Freshman forward Silvio DeSousa provided 11 rebounds in relief. Each scored eight points, but that did not matter to Self after Mawien was allowed to go 13 of 19.
“I do like the fact that the guys are somewhat resilient,” Self said. “Usually when bad things happen they can find some way to have some great possessions. … It can be frustrating sometimes because we play to our skill set rather than actually getting after people.”
Senior guards Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter scored 22 and 17 points, respectively, as West Virginia held off Texas Tech. Carter forced fellow All-Big 12 pick Keenan Evans of Texas Tech into a contested 3-pointer with 11 seconds left that missed short and Miles made 1 of 2 free throws with six seconds left to clinch the win.
West Virginia, which will make its third consecutive appearance in the Big 12 Tournament final, was swept in the regular-season series against Kansas. The familiarity, however, should ease the quick transition into the final.
“When you play in this league,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, “and you play everybody twice … we’re not one of those leagues where they play the best team like once every three years.”