The occasion clearly was too big for the newest Kansas Jayhawk, Silvio De Sousa.
In his debut on Jan. 13 against Kansas State in Lawrence, De Sousa committed a foul and a turnover and KU was outscored by eight points while he was on the floor. He looked like the high school player he was only weeks earlier.
Spin ahead to Saturday. There was De Sousa flying toward the rim to flush an offensive rebound, going up strong on the defensive glass and — this may have been the best part to teammates — not taking any grief from West Virginia muscleman Sagaba Konate.
Add it up, and De Sousa’s best game as a collegian resulted in a stat line of 16 points on 8 of 8 shooting, 10 rebounds, a steal and two fouls as the Jayhawks captured the Big 12 Tournament title with an 81-70 victory over the Mountaineers at the Sprint Center.
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Kansas needed the production. Without 7-foot center Ukoka Azubuike, out for the tournament because of a sprained MCL, the Jayhawks relied on De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot to plug the hole. Lightfoot was solid in the first two games, but was held without a point and had two rebounds Saturday.
De Sousa was a revelation.
“He did a great job sticking with it, coming to practice every day, learning the plays, and it’s finally paying off,” Kansas guard Devonte' Graham said.
With the Jayhawks’ perimeter prowess, West Virginia and Konate needed to bull KU in the paint. But De Sousa allowed Kansas to hold its own and not be intimidated.
“Whoever talks to me, I don’t listen to them,” De Sousa said. “I’d rather listen to my point guard than anybody else. (Konate) was talking to me, but I acted like I wasn’t listening to him.”
De Sousa said he once tried to engage in conversation with Konate, but didn’t get a response.
“I was getting in his head,” De Sousa said.
Konate dunked on Lightfoot about 90 seconds into the game, and the chirping started, but De Sousa made a vow to himself.
“I was going to make sure it didn’t happen again,” De Sousa said.
Konate finished with 18 points and five rebounds, and the Mountaineers held the rebounding edge 37-27. But Kansas got more than they ever expected from their freshman playing in his 15th game.
“Silvio was fabulous, I mean fabulous,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I mean he doesn’t know what he’s doing but he showed everybody he can catch lobs, he can rebound, he can compete.
“Konate definitely hurt us ... but Silvio did a much better job keeping him off his spot.”
After the game, De Sousa said there was no grudge. In the handshake line he said he and Konate exchanged congratulations and the West Virginia sophomore from Mali learned that De Sousa was from Angola.
In the victorious locker room, De Sousa said Self told him he was a star. De Sousa blushed.
“I don’t know, but I think should be good with him,” De Sousa said. “Tonight I proved to him that I can play.”