Lawrence, KS – With their sights set on yet another Big 12 Conference title, the sixth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks continue their quest with a showdown against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday at the Allen Fieldhouse.
Bill Self's Jayhawks are currently tied with Kansas State atop the league standings at 12-3. Kansas has maintained its standing with wins in five straight games, including a thrilling 108-96 overtime victory at Iowa State on Monday, as Self earned his 500th career win.
Bob Huggins' Mountaineers have struggled in their new conference, as they are a mere 6-9 in league play good for just seventh place in the standings. In fact, West Virginia has struggled to stay afloat all season long, currently sitting two games under .500 overall (13-15). The team enters this contest with losses in three straight and four of its last five games, including a 65-62 setback against Baylor on Wednesday.
These two teams met for the first time on Jan. 28 in Morgantown. The Mountaineers put up a strong fight, but it was Kansas that was able to escape with a 61-56 decision.
West Virginia held a seven-point lead in the second half, but went more than eight minutes without a field goal down the stretch, as Baylor came roaring back to earn the win. The loss spoiled a terrific performance by Eron Harris, who led all scorers with a career-high 25 points. Kevin Noreen just missed a double-double off the bench, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds in the loss.
A lack of consistency at the offensive end has certainly hampered the Mountaineers from posting wins on a regular basis. WVU comes into this game averaging a modest 65.6 ppg, but that number cold be so much better if not for a mediocre .404 shooting. There are six players currently averaging over seven points per game for West Virginia, but no one is in double digits. Harris is the top performer in that regard at just 9.3 ppg. Aaric Murray and Deniz Kilicli are next at 8.8 ppg each. Murray is the team's top rebounder with 6.2 rpg.
A lack of scoring depth could be the kiss of death against a team like Kansas. The Jayhawks have proved themselves to be one of the top defensive teams in the country, holding foes to just 61.1 ppg, thanks to the nation's best field- goal percentage defense (.355). In addition, Kansas owns a +6.7 rebounding margin and is blocking 6.6 shots per game. Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore has certainly made an immediate impact. The smooth shooting guard has elevated his draft status significantly and in some circles is viewed as the top player overall should he leave Lawrence. McLemore is shooting .493 from the floor overall, including .423 from behind the arc, putting up 15.9 ppg. Center Jeff Withey is a perfect complement inside with 13.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. Travis Releford (12.4 ppg) and Elijah Johnson (10.2 ppg, 4.5 apg) provide plenty of depth.
It was quite a shootout in Ames this week with a questionable ending, but Johnson's superhuman effort was the difference, as he poured in a career-high 39 points in the win. The point total was the most by a Kansas player since 1991 (Terry Brown - 42). Releford added 19 points to the cause, while Withey and Kevin Young finished with 13 points each. Withey recorded his 11th double- double of the season with 10 rebounds. Kansas shot 54.4 percent from the floor in the game and really took over in the extra session, going 6-of-7 from the floor, while Iowa State fell cold, connecting on just 1-of-9 from the floor in overtime.