Bob Huggins could be at the point with his West Virginia squad where he feels it is necessary to use a gas pedal for a demonstrative prop.
After watching the No. 17 Mountaineers (12-5, 5-3 Big 12) almost blow a 15-point lead by failing to make a field goal over the final 5:52, Huggins complained about lack of killer instinct entering a game against No. 23 Kansas (12-6, 6-4) in Morgantown, W.V.
“This team doesn’t hold leads very well,” Huggins said following a 76-72 home win Tuesday over the Big 12’s last-place team, Iowa State. “They stop guarding, relaxed and let their guard down. There were instances when they missed some, the ball bounced off the rim and our guys never moved.”
Instead, West Virginia needed to make seven free throws for its final points and rode Derek Culver’s league-high ninth double-double to avoid an upset. The Mountaineers sealed the win with a turnover they forced inside the final 10 seconds.
“There is no way this game should have come down to a defensive stop at the end to win it,” said Gabe Osabuohien. “We just need to be mentally locked in for 40 minutes and not just spurts.”
That comment seems particularly poignant considering West Virginia faces ranked opponents in its next six games. The Mountaineers are tied with Texas for second place in the Big 12 behind undefeated Baylor.
Culver averages a double-double as a 14-point scorer who leads all Big 12 rebounders (10.4). Miles McBride (15.1) leads the Mountaineers’ scorers and leads the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Recent struggles for Kansas have been framed in a largely positive light by coach Bill Self. His team lost four of the last six and barely clings to a spot in its record 231st consecutive poll, yet Self recognizes the strength of competition and time left on the calendar.
Of the Jayhawks’ six defeats, four came against teams ranked in the top 11 at tipoff.
“Those are hard games for anybody to win,” Self reasoned. “We are 4-6 in Tier 1 games. I will be the first to admit I accept responsibility and know we have not played to the level we are capable of, (but) it is not as dire as what I think some people have pointed it out to be.”
Although Self has rarely encountered a difficult stretch like this in his 18 seasons at Kansas, he is convinced his team can regroup. The Jayhawks have never missed an NCAA Tournament and never been seeded lower than fourth with Self as coach.
A potential recovery began Tuesday when Kansas thrashed Kansas State 74-51. Backups continue to receive more extensive looks and Tristan Enaruna responded to a season-high 20 minutes by grading out as high as any of the Jayhawks. Enaruna’s array of skills on both ends overshadowed his stat line.
“I can’t think of anything negative he did,” said Self, who reverted to using his usual starting five, which features Ochai Agbaji (14.1) as the Jayhawks’ leading scorer.
West Virginia has increased arena capacity to 1,500 for the Kansas game.
–Field Level Media