LAWRENCE, Kan. – In a clash between the Big 12’s top offensive team and stingiest defensive team, the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks came out on top, outlasting the No. 16/17 West Virginia Mountaineers, 60-53, Saturday afternoon inside Allen Fieldhouse in the conference regular-season opener. Senior center Udoka Azubuike led the Jayhawks with 17 points and added 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season.
The game marked KU’s 29th-straight win to open conference play and moved the Jayhawks to 11-2 on the year. West Virginia fell to 11-2 in its 2019-20 campaign.
As many of the Kansas-West Virginia battles have become known for, this contest was no different as the physicality and staunch defense was turned up from the opening tip. The Jayhawks managed only one field goal, a Devon Dotson 3-pointer, over the first seven minutes of action. This helped the Mountaineers build a double-digit lead, 17-7, by the 12:13 mark of the opening half. WVU big man Oscar Tshiebwe was another reason for the visitor’s quick start, as the freshman netted 15 points along with 10 rebounds, all in the opening 20 minutes of action.
Despite the impressive start from the Mountaineers, Kansas managed to keep the game within reach. After West Virginia’s Jordan McCabe sunk a 3-pointer to give his team its second 10-point edge of the opening frame, 30-20, with under four minutes before the break, KU closed the half with a driving lay-up from Devon Dotson and a dunk by Azubuike. The two buckets pulled the score to 30-24, where it would remain as the two teams headed for the locker rooms.
It was KU’s start to the second half that may have been the decisive blow for the game. The Jayhawks stormed out of the lockerroom on an 8-2 run, capped by an Ochai Agbaji 3-pointer, to pull the score level at 32-32 just 2:30 after the restart.
A Marcus Garrett steal and lay-up four minutes later kickstarted another KU run that helped the Jayhawk push its lead to seven points. Both Azubuike and freshman Christian Braun converted and-ones during the 13-2 stretch as the home side took a 45-38 lead into the final 9:30 of regulation.
From there, the game became a free throw shooting contest. Both teams combined for just seven field goals over the final 8:09 of the contest but shot 16 free throws over the home stretch. WVU managed to cut KU’s lead to three points on two occasions in the final 90 seconds, but KU had an answer, both from Garrett. The junior drove the line and converted on a lay-up with just over a minute to play to halt a 5-0 Mountaineer run, before connecting on two free throws with 44 seconds remaining to push KU’s lead back to five points.
Dotson then swished four-straight charities and sealed the Jayhawks’ 60-53 victory as KU outscored West Virginia by a tally of 36-23 in the second half.
The defensive battle ended with both teams shooting 40 percent or lower, with the Jayhawks hitting 19-of-47 (40%) of their shots and the Mountaineers shooting in 19-of-59 (32.2%). WVU won the rebounding battle, pulling down 44 boards to Kansas’ 30, however, the Jayhawks forced 16 Mountaineer turnovers, six of which came off KU steals.
Azubuike led the team in points for the second time this season via his 17-point effort and posted his fifth double-double of the season via his 11 rebounds. The Delta, Nigeria product also posted a career-high six blocks. Dotson hit double-figures for the 13th time in as many outings this season with his 16 points. He also amassed four steals on the day. Garrett was the third Jayhawk to score in double-figures, turning in 12 points to go along with a team-high six assists and two steals.
Kansas plays its first Big 12 road game of the season at Iowa State on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 7 p.m., on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. Kansas is 182-66 all-time against Iowa State, including a 70-40 advantage in Ames and a 26-22 edge in Hilton Coliseum.