Jevon Carter arrived at WVU Coliseum several hours before last year’s West Virginia-Kansas basketball game, and thus was unaware that a snowstorm had snarled traffic on the streets of Morgantown, W.Va., right before tipoff.
“We knew if that game wasn’t sold out there had to be something going on outside,” said Carter, West Virginia’s junior point guard, recalling the surprise he felt at seeing some empty seats on a night the No. 11-ranked Mountaineers were to face the No. 1 team in the country.
In all, 12,097 brave fans (there were just 2,000 no-shows on that wintry Jan. 12 evening) eventually navigated their way into the arena by halftime — plenty of time left to enjoy what turned out to be a 74-63 Mountaineers victory.
“I remember looking out and seeing the fans standing in the aisles and on the stairs instead of sitting in the seats because of how intense the game was,” said Carter, who had one of the Mountaineers’ 12 steals on a night West Virginia forced 22 KU turnovers.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“They (fans) got there and it was a good game,” said West Virginia senior forward Nathan Adrian. He celebrated with fans who stormed the court after the KU game for a third straight year.
Adrian hopes to make it four in a row at home over Kansas on Tuesday when the No. 18 Mountaineers (15-4, 4-3 Big 12) play host to the No. 2 Jayhawks (18-1, 7-0) in a 6 p.m. tipoff.
Once again, a key to the game figures to be whether KU can handle West Virginia’s fullcourt press. The Jayhawks committed 20 turnovers in a 81-71 victory over West Virginia in the Big 12 championship title game on March 12 at the Sprint Center and had 15 in a 75-65 victory over the Mountaineers last season at Allen Fieldhouse. That adds up to 57 turnovers in three games a year ago to West Virginia’s 41.
“You’re going to turn it over against West Virginia, but they can’t be live-ball turnovers,” KU coach Bill Self said. “You’d rather throw it out of bounds so your defense can get set rather than having numbers coming back at you.”
The Mountaineers, who have forced 441 turnovers while committing just 223 in 19 games, harassed Baylor into 29 turnovers in an 89-68 victory over the then-No. 1 Bears on Jan. 10 in Morgantown.
“You get hounded the whole 40 minutes when you play them,” said KU junior guard Devonté Graham. He had just one turnover, while Frank Mason had seven in KU’s loss last year at West Virginia.
“No team we play has pressure like that. We go against eight people in practice before we play West Virginia to simulate how hectic it is in traps,” Graham added.
“It’s always a challenge,” Mason said. “They do a great job being active with guys in the right spots. They do a great job of rotating, trapping and playing with unbelievable energy.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is hoping his team, which forced 40 turnovers in an 108-61 win over Manhattan on Nov. 28, can return to its ball-hawking ways. Oklahoma committed just 12 turnovers in an 89-87 overtime victory over West Virginia on Wednesday at WVU Coliseum. Kansas State had 16 turnovers in a 79-75 win over the Mountaineers on Saturday in Manhattan, Kan.
“I don’t think our ball pressure is very good. Our ball pressure is not what it was,” Huggins said Monday. “We are not closing traps the way we were.”
Huggins believes the Mountaineers will earn every turnover they get against a KU team with “great speed, great transition speed.
“They’ve got multiple guys who can push the ball,” Huggins said. “I haven’t seen anybody near as good in transition as they are. They are running with people, then all of a sudden they are laying it in and those people are trying to catch them.”
On Monday, at his media session at WVU Coliseum, Huggins lauded fifth-year KU senior Landen Lucas, who leads the Big 12 in rebounding (11.4) and field goal percentage (65.2) in league games only.
“Landen Lucas is in my mind unquestionably the most valuable big guy in the league for what he does,” Huggins said. “They can take chances (defensively) because he can defend the rim. When they need somebody to really rebound, he’ll get 18 rebounds. When he needs to score, he can score. When he doesn’t need to score, he’s very happy just rebounding the ball and outletting and watching those other guys run.
“He’s the ultimate team guy and really he’s the most valuable guy on their team. Without Landen Lucas they are not near as good.”
Lucas, who was playing with flu-like symptoms, scored two points and grabbed 14 rebounds while playing 31 minutes in Saturday’s 79-67 home victory over Texas.
“He’s fine, 100 percent,” Self said Monday in a text message to The Star.
Self respects Huggins
KU coach Self on Huggins, who receives a $25,000 bonus as part of his contract whenever the Mountaineers beat KU during the regular season: “I don’t think Huggs gets the respect sometimes he is due. I think he’s a fabulous coach.
“He’s been doing it a long time (806-325 record in 35 seasons as a head coach). I don’t know how long Huggs will go. He’ll easily get 900, maybe 1,000 (wins). It’s unheard of for somebody to get that many wins. He’s a somewhat colorful figure and has been great for our league.”
Bucket list item
Graham really would like to land a victory at WVU Coliseum, where he’s 0-2.
“It’s on the bucket list,” he said. “Just like Iowa State. I didn’t win there (his first two years) so that was a good win (76-72 on Jan. 16). It’s tough to play down there (West Virginia). They’ve got good fans and play really well at their house.”
KU leads Mountaineers by three games
Self’s Jayhawks enter Tuesday three games ahead of West Virginia in the Big 12 standings.
“I don’t think anybody in the state of West Virginia is shooting for No. 2. It’s all we want is to be No. 1,” point guard Carter said in an interview with The Star at Big 12 Media Day in October at Sprint Center.
Mason, Jackson on lists
Mason on Monday was one of 19 players chosen to the midseason watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy, which goes to the national player of the year as awarded by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
KU’s Josh Jackson on Monday was one of 12 players selected to the midseason watch list for the Wayman Tisdale Award, which goes to the country’s top freshman as awarded by the USBWA.