Kansas center Jeff Withey blocks a shot by WVU's Gary Browne.
LAWRENCE, Kan. - It says so right there on all of the new glass doors that serve as entryways to the venerable old arena that Kansas calls home.Welcome to Allen Fieldhouse, the greatest home court advantage in all of college basketball.Perhaps the Jayhawks didn't even need that against West Virginia Saturday afternoon. But it certainly didn't do Kansas any harm.The Mountaineers found out just how quickly momentum can change in the atmosphere at the place they call The Phog. They also found out just how talented Ben McLemore and Kansas are.
The No. 6 Jayhawks fell behind WVU for about eight minutes before using a couple of what would become 13 blocks to start a run that pretty much never ended. Ultimately Kansas won, 91-65, providing McLemore with an opportunity to strengthen his case for Big 12 player of the year honors.And afterward, even the shell-shocked Mountaineers were impressed."I was excited to play here. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,'' said freshman guard Terry Henderson. "I just wish we'd put up a better fight. We didn't keep fighting.''No, the Mountaineers didn't. And in part that was why the Jayhawks were so impressive in front of the 196th consecutive sellout (16,300) at their 58-year-old arena.How impressive? Well, McLemore had 36 points and Jeff Withey was one block away from a triple-double. The redshirt freshman McLemore also had seven rebounds and four assists, while the 7-foot Withey had 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins watched that pair dominate things - point guard Elijah Johnson certainly helped, too, with 12 points and 10 assists - and could only marvel."[Withey] makes it hard for everybody. He's the best shot-blocker in the country,'' Huggins said. "And when McLemore makes shots, they're hard to beat.''The result is that the Mountaineers are still deep into their current slide.The loss was the fourth in a row and fifth in six games for West Virginia (13-16, 6-10 Big 12), which is now guaranteed to finish with a losing record in league play and probably overall for the first time since 2003. In order even to reach .500, the Mountaineers would have to win their final two regular-season games and at least two more in the Big 12 tournament.Those final two games are Wednesday night at Oklahoma and then Saturday's home finale against Iowa State. The Big 12 tournament begins the following Wednesday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Saturday's loss also guarantees the Mountaineers will play in one of the two Wednesday games in the Big 12 event, which pit the Nos. 8 and 9 teams and Nos. 7 and 10. The winners move into the quarterfinal bracket with the top six teams on Thursday.
Kansas (25-4, 13-3), meanwhile, stayed atop the Big 12 standings in pursuit of a ninth consecutive regular-season title.Dominique Rutledge surprisingly led West Virginia with his first-ever double-double, 17 points and 13 rebounds. Henderson made the first five 3-pointers he attempted and finished with six while scoring a team-high 20 points. Eron Harris had 11 points, but missed 13 of his 17 shots. The Mountaineers shot just 32.8 percent.McLemore, meanwhile, was nearly unstoppable. He made 12 of his 15 shots, including five of his six 3-point attempts."We wanted to pressure him and make him uncomfortable,'' Henderson said of McLemore, who more than doubled his season average of 15.9 points. "Obviously we didn't. No one did.''Still, for a while this was going all West Virginia's way. But then came the perfect example of how quickly things can change in front of that loud crowd.Leading 16-9 after a pair of 3-pointers by Henderson and a three-point play by Deniz Kilicli, West Virginia seemed ready to go up by nine when Jabarie Hinds tipped away an inbounds pass, chased it down and was heading for a layup.
But in short order, his layup was blocked from behind by Elijah Johnson. Harris got the rebound and drove the baseline for a dunk, but that was blocked by Withey. Just as quickly, Travis Releford was heading the other way for a dunk, Hinds was turning the ball over and McLemore was driving to the basket again.It all took roughly 20 seconds and by the time it was over, WVU's potential nine-point lead had become just a three-point edge. West Virginia would hang around and maintain the lead for another few minutes, but ultimately it began the rout."They saw him run down there and block that shot and it got them into the game,'' Henderson said of the crowd.Huggins agreed that the series was the turning point, but not because of the crowd factor."Is it a block or a goal-tend?'' Huggins asked. "But then, for reasons unbeknownst to me, we throw the ball to them again. And then it just took off.''Kansas would lead by 14 at halftime and it was never again into single digits. The Jayhawks' biggest lead was 29 points.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1