No. 13 Kansas hosts No. 20 WVU in Big 12 clash

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Only five games remain in Big 12 play, Kansas does not lead the conference race and yet the No. 13 Jayhawks have the potential to ascend to a point they are a tough out as a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“You can see that the ceiling is still pretty high if we can get everybody on the same page and playing well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

“I mean, my thoughts have always been the same. We got a chance to be in every game. We got a chance to win every game. Why should we settle for anything less than that? The reality is, I think there’s potential to play a lot better than we have in the last two or three weeks.”

Still, the Jayhawks (20-6) certified their 29th consecutive 20-win season (an NCAA record) and at 9-4 in the Big 12 remain a game behind conference leader Texas Tech. Third-place West Virginia (19-7, 8-5) carries a No. 20 ranking into Allen Fieldhouse for a 6 p.m. clash Saturday.

To emphasize the point, Self referenced the stat line from the Jayhawks’ last game, an 83-77 victory Tuesday at Iowa State. Kansas’ two top scorers, senior guards Devonte’ Graham (17.5 ppg.) and Svi Mykhailiuk (15.6), combined to go 6 of 26 from the field.

Although Graham went 3 of 16 in the win at Iowa State, do not underestimate his importance as an authoritative leader who has logged nine complete games (40 minutes) in a row. He averages 7.2 assists against 2.7 turnovers.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a team where a guy gets less help,” Self said. “I’m not putting down anybody. From talking, from ownership, from coaching others, he is doing it all. … This is Devonte’s personality that’s basically getting us through the intangible things.”

Kansas needed many of those intangibles to beat West Virginia at home a year ago. The Jayhawks rallied from a 14-point deficit inside the final three minutes of regulation before winning 84-80 in overtime.

A rally earlier this season in Morgantown was not quite as frantic, though Kansas trailed by 12 with fewer than nine minutes remaining and used a 28-11 closeout to beat West Virginia 71-66 as Graham and Mykhailiuk combined for 20 points in the last eight minutes.

West Virginia is coming off an 82-66 rout of TCU, holding the Horned Frogs to 19 points below their season scoring average. Senior guard Jevon Carter, who averages a team-high 16.9 points, remains one of the country’s top defenders and needs one more steal to reach 300 for his career.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins alternated several reserves after seeing the Mountaineers fatigue during a stretch in which they lost six of nine before the TCU win.

“We don’t shoot it great and we pass it below average so we’ve got to play hard and make things happen with our defense,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to make it really hard on people and we’ve got to make people want the game to be over with because they’re tired of us chasing them around. We are what we are.”