Devonté Graham wore a party hat made of streamers as he climbed the ladder to cut a strand of net after dishing a career-high 13 assists in Kansas’ 81-70 Big 12 title-game victory over West Virginia on Saturday at the Sprint Center.
He left a remaining bit of cord for the most outstanding player of the tournament, teammate Malik Newman, who scored 20 points, two more than Graham in the championship contest.
“Is Malik the last one? Cut it all the way down, Malik,” KU coach Bill Self said with a smile.
He watched the sophomore combo guard from Jackson, Miss., celebrate after a game that met with the coach’s approval.
“These guys played tough today,” Self said. “They were excited to go, played with smiles on their faces … it was great.”
Newman by all accounts was outstanding in setting the KU record for most points scored in a Big 12 tournament.
He scored 30 in the quarterfinals versus Oklahoma State and 22 in the semifinals against Kansas State, which combined with 20 on Saturday accounted for 72 points.
Paul Pierce scored 67 in three Big 12 postseason tourney games for KU in 1998.
Newman hit six of eight three-pointers and six of 11 shots total against West Virginia (24-10). He was 15 of 22 from three-point range in the tourney and 25 of 40 overall.
“It’s a great feeling to be mentioned with a legend (Pierce),” Newman said on the Sprint Center court as he watched Graham cut his portion of the net. Graham, KU’s senior point guard, was named to the all-tournament team along with Newman, K-State’s Makol Mawien and West Virginia’s Daxter Miles (25 points in the final) and Jevon Carter (17 points, nine assists).
“There’s nothing more I can ask for,” Newman said.
Newman reiterated what he’d been telling the media all weekend regarding his key to success. He has recorded three straight 20-point games for the first time in his career.
“I just wanted to come out, be aggressive, have fun,” he said. “My teammates did the same thing. We had energy the whole time.”
KU guards Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick scored 16 and 10 points, respectively. Mykhailiuk was 4-of-8 from three-point range and Vick 2-of-3 on a day KU knocked down 15 of 27 threes to West Virginia’s eight of 24.
As far as the bigs … freshman Silvio De Sousa scored a career-high 16 points on 8-of-8 shooting with 10 rebounds in 26 minutes. He easily could have been named all-tourney as well after combining for 14 points and 19 rebounds in previous wins over Oklahoma State and Kansas State.
“Silvio was fabulous. He showed everybody he can catch lobs, rebound, compete,” Self said.
KU’s coach challenged the 6-foot-9 Angola native at halftime despite the fact that De Sousa, playing a batch of minutes in place of the injured Udoka Azubuike, had 10 points and seven rebounds. KU trailed by just one, 34-33, at the break.
“Coach at halftime called me soft. I told him, ‘I’ll play better,’” said De Sousa.
Sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot, who had 16 points and nine rebounds combined in the first two games of the tournament, contributed two rebounds, a block and a steal in 14 minutes.
“Silvio was a better matchup against Konate (Sagaba, 18 points, five boards),” Self said. “Not because Mitch didn’t try, but because he’s so light. Silvio was able to move him a little bit.”
De Sousa and the 6-8 Konate had words at various junctures during the finale. Konate had something to say to Lightfoot after dunking.
“Once he dunked that ball, I said, ‘That’s not gonna happen again,’” De Sousa said. “I was talking to him, doing everything I could to distract him. I thought it was working. It’s part of the game. We went hard against each other. At the end of the game I told him, ‘Good game’ and he said that too, to me.”
KU, which overcame an eight-point deficit (51-43) at the 15:11 mark and seven-point hole (63-56) at 9:35, went to work with 6:41 left, the game tied 66-66.
KU went on a 7-0 run to grab a 73-66 advantage with 3:51 left. De Sousa opened with an inside bucket and Graham had a bucket and then a three.
“Once again we were down eight twice. That’s when we played our best. I’m always proud of teams that do that,” Self said.
It proved to be a huge weekend for KU (27-7), which defeated a West Virginia team in the Big 12 finals for the second time in three postseasons. The No. 9-ranked Jayhawks went 3-0 against the Mountaineers this season.
KU started the day as the Midwest’s No. 1 seed as predicted by both ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm. If KU is indeed named a No. 1 seed in the Midwest, it would mean first- and second-round games in Wichita. And if KU advances, its regional would in nearby Omaha, Neb.
“I think this definitely valildates what happened during the regular season,” said Self, whose squad won a 14th-straight regular season crown. “Nobody can say that Kansas caught a break or was lucky this year.”
As far as the upcoming availability of Azubuike, who suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee Tuesday and didn’t play in the tourney, Self said: “Doke worked out again today on the bike. He’ll get checked by the doctors tomorrow.”
Azubuike, who also clipped the nets after the game said, “I don’t know … hopefully. It’s feeling better.”