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WVU vying for their first memorable trip to “The Phog” on Saturday

Heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks, the West Virginia Mountaineers are sitting at 13-2 and 2-1 in Big 12 play. Awaiting the Mountaineers is Bill Self’s Jayhawks, who are also 13-2, but have a No. 9 national ranking. 

With such talent between the two teams, this game is set up to be a classic. Though the Mountaineers have never won a game at Allen Fieldhouse in their nine years in the Big 12, there have been multiple classics between these teams in Lawrence. This Saturday, the Mountaineers will try to pick that elusive win they have come so close to, so many times.

2016-2017 (84-80 Kansas, OT) 

In a ‘Big Monday’ matchup, the 20-5 and No. 9 ranked Mountaineers met the 22-3 and No. 3 ranked Kansas Jayhawks for a huge late season game. This game may live in the nightmares of some WVU fans, but it is undeniably one of the best Big 12 games in recent memory. 

West Virginia had taken down Kansas earlier in the year when the Jayhawks were ranked No. 2 in the country. This seemed like the year that WVU could get off the hump in Lawrence and complete the season sweep over the Jayhawks, but the Phog had other ideas. 

WVU took a seven-point lead into halftime and kept the pressure on by keeping the lead throughout the second half. The Mountaineers had a 14-point lead with under three minutes to play, and a huge win seemed to be in the bag, but Kansas never quit. 

Kansas put pressure on the Mountaineers as they tried to bring the ball up the court, and the Mountaineers struggled. WVU, who at the time was nicknamed ‘Press Virginia,’ could not handle the press from the Jayhawks, despite working against pressure every day in practice. 

The comeback effort from the Jayhawks was led by guards Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. Mason ended the game with 24 points, while Graham put in 18. Kansas kept getting big turnovers and quick buckets, including a pair of clutch three-pointers from Devone’ Graham. 

The score was 64-50 with 2:43 remaining, but Kansas outscored West Virginia 21-7 to tie the score up in the final seconds. WVU had the last shot of regulation, which was an isolation three-pointer by Tarik Phillip. Phillip, who finished the game with 18 points, hit the back of the rim on the game-winning attempt, and the game went to overtime. 

Kansas had all the momentum and kept that going into overtime. Devonte’ Graham put in another two three-pointers, and Kansas ran away from the Mountaineers. The Jayhawks completed the comeback and won the game 84-80.  

2017-2018 (77-69 Kansas) 

A year after WVU experienced heartbreak in Lawrence, they were back for more in another ranked matchup. WVU, led by seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., were ranked No. 20 in the country. On the other hand, Kansas came in at No. 13 in the country and were led by Devonte’ Graham again and big man Udoka Azubuike. 

On this night, Daxter Miles Jr. would be the answer for the Mountaineers, as he scored 22 points while shooting 6-for-9 from three-point range. Udoka Azubuike scored 21 for the Jayhawks by shooting 7-for-8 from the field with plenty of dunks. 

The Mountaineers and Jayhawks were tied at 34-34 at the half, but WVU came out and grabbed the lead early in the second half. WVU’s largest lead came with 10:20 to play when Daxter Miles Jr. made a three-pointer to extend the lead to 12 points. 

As expected, Kansas did not lay down. Devonte’ Graham, Udoka Azubuike, and Malik Newman kept scoring and getting to the foul line to chip away at the deficit.  

Kansas’s best stretch of the comeback was with under four minutes to play. Daxter Miles Jr. made a huge three-pointer to give WVU an eight-point lead with 3:47, but Devonte’ Graham immediately answered with a three of his own to cut the lead down to five. 

After getting a stop, Kansas scored on an Azubuike dunk to make it a three-point game. Kansas stopped the Mountaineers for a second time in a row, and then tied the game at 66-66 when Malik Newman made a corner three-pointer. Kansas then took a 68-66 lead when Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk made two free throws. 

The biggest play of the game came with under a minute to play. Down by two, Jevon Carter took a three-pointer trying for the lead, but it did not come close. The rebound was gathered by WVU’s Wesley Harris, and he got the ball to the hot hand of Daxter Miles Jr. Miles Jr. hit a Kansas defender with a pump fake and rose up to take a three-pointer for the lead but instead threw a hard pass to the post. The pass was stolen and just about ended WVU’s hopes of leaving Lawrence with a win. 

After that sequence, Kansas went up by four with a pair of free throws from Devonte’ Graham. Needing a quick bucket, Daxter Miles Jr. went up for a layup against Udoka Azubuike to try to make it a two-point game. Miles Jr. was hit fairly obviously on the body by the seven-foot Azubuike, but no whistle was blown, and Kansas got a layup as a result. 

Bob Huggins was furious, and let the officials know about it. Huggins received a technical foul, but wasn’t done, as he was thrown out of the game moments later. Huggins had reason to voice his displeasure, as the Mountaineers shot two free throws on the entire game, while Kansas shot 35. 

With a load of technical free throws, (and almost zero West Virginia free throws) Kansas ended up winning the game by a score of 77-69. 

2020-2021 (79-65) 

With COVID-19 affecting the season, not many fans were allowed to attend games, so Allen Fieldhouse wasn’t its normal self. That didn’t make a difference, as the Jayhawks kept up their good play against the Mountaineers at home.  

In the most recent matchup at Allen Fieldhouse, both teams came in ranked in the AP Top 10, with WVU ranked No. 7 and Kansas ranked No. 3. While the final score of this game indicates Kansas dominated, that is not quite the case. 

The first half went back-and-forth, and the reason the Mountaineers weren’t getting beaten handily was Sean McNeil. The first half of this game was one of the best outings of Sean McNeil’s career, and one of the better shooting performances WVU fans have seen in a long time. 

McNeil made everything he shot, as he finished the half 6-for-6 from the field, with all of those shots being three-pointers. A pair of those threes were as McNeil’s body was moving, and the shots were making Kansas defenders throw their hands up in the air. McNeil’s wildest shot came at the end of the first half when the Mountaineers were down by two. McNeil got the ball at the top of the key and pulled up for three from almost 35-feet out. The shot banked in with a Christian Braun hand in his face as time expired to give WVU a 36-35 lead at the break. 

The second half didn’t fare as well for the Mountaineers, as McNeil only made two more field goals. Jalen Wilson and Christian Braun took over for the Jayhawks and allowed them to take the lead early in the second half and extend it throughout the remainder of the game. 

Christian Braun finished the game with 22 points, while Jalen Wilson had 17 and Marcus Garrett added 15 of his own. For WVU, Sean McNeil led all scorers with 24 points, while Miles McBride finished with 19. No other Mountaineer finished in double-figures besides McNeil and McBride and that proved to be fatal in trying to keep pace with the hot Jayhawks. 

West Virginia will once again take on the task of trying to knock off Kansas on their home court. With full capacity back, Allen Fieldhouse will be rocking once again, as the Mountaineers will have their hands full against the No. 9 ranked Jayhawks. The game tips off at 2:00 p.m. and will be televised on CBS. 

Photo from Kansas Athletics

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