West Virginia (19-4, 8-2) owns a one-game lead on the Jayhawks by virtue of a 74-63 home victory Jan. 12 that knocked Kansas out of the top spot in the poll. It was the Mountaineers’ third win in their last four meetings with Kansas (19-4, 7-3), which has lost 12 regular-season conference games since the start of 2013-14.
History suggests West Virginia will have a hard time duplicating that win. The Jayhawks haven’t been swept in a home-and-home set since Iowa State did so in 2000-01 and have won 38 straight at Allen Fieldhouse, where they’ve defeated 28 consecutive Big 12 opponents.
Two other ranked teams came close to ending those streaks last month, though. Kansas survived a 109-106, triple-overtime thriller with then-No. 2 Oklahoma on Jan. 4 and overcame then-No. 20 Kentucky 90-84 in overtime Jan. 30 behind Wayne Selden Jr.’s career-high 33 points.
West Virginia also put a scare into the Jayhawks in Lawrence on March 3, with Kansas overcoming an 18-point first-half deficit and a knee injury to Perry Ellis to rally for a 76-69 overtime win.
The Mountaineers succeeded in another of the Big 12’s notoriously tough venues last week, handing the then-No. 13 Cyclones an 81-76 loss.
"I don’t think this group has a lot of fear," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "Some people go in thinking they can’t win. These guys don’t ever do that."
They followed that performance with Saturday’s 80-69 victory over then-No. 15 Baylor, giving the program consecutive wins over top 15 teams for the first time since 1957.
Kansas appears to be back on track after a 2-3 stretch that began with the Jan. 12 loss, following the Kentucky win by defeating Kansas State and TCU by a combined 37 points and establishing momentum for a crucial week. The Jayhawks visit the No. 3 Sooners on Saturday.
The Jayhawks were focused in Saturday’s 75-56 rout of last-place TCU, building an 18-point halftime lead and outrebounding the Horned Frogs 45-26. That was a stark improvement after being beaten 36-21 on the boards in Wednesday’s 77-59 win over Kansas State.
"I thought we rebounded the ball more like men (Saturday) than what we did in prior (games)," coach Bill Self said. "We’ve been really good or not very good at all in those particular areas. That was much better."
Ellis had 23 points and 10 rebounds while going 11 of 14 from the floor. The senior forward has shot 62.9 percent in averaging 20.2 points over his last five games.
The Jayhawks face a stiff challenge on the glass from West Virginia, tops in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage at 42.3.
The Mountaineers, though, will likely be without suspended forward Jonathan Holton, fifth in the Big 12 with 7.5 rebounds per game, for a fourth straight game.
West Virginia also tops the nation with 10.3 steals and 19.0 turnovers forced, a factor in last month’s win over Kansas. West Virginia recorded 12 steals and forced the Jayhawks into a season-high 22 giveaways.
Kansas also committed 32 fouls that resulted in 47 West Virginia free throws, a reversal from last season’s matchup in Lawrence in which the Jayhawks went 34 of 43 from the line compared with 16 of 28 for the Mountaineers.