LAWRENCE, Kan. — At their lowest and most listless points this season, Kansas and West Virginia were comrades at rock-bottom. The Jayhawks lost at TCU (RPI No. 228) and the Mountaineers coughed one up at Duquesne (RPI No. 215), each defeat an embarrassing chapter that sounded alarms and confounded fans.
The difference, of course, is Kansas didn’t stay listless for long, whereas West Virginia’s doldrums have stretched into months of unmitigated depression.
Never were their moods more distinct than Saturday, when wide-grinning Kansas reveled in its series of alley-oops and 3-pointers, and WVU provided only glum resistance. The final margin, 91-65, matched the most comfortable for Kansas in Big 12 action this season and left the Mountaineers a sorry postcard of their first visit to Allen Fieldhouse.
“They thrive in transition, and they were throwing alley-oops left and right,” said West Virginia guard Eron Harris. “That shouldn’t happen.”
Harris scored 11 points Saturday, and rarely has a double-digit output come adorned with more angst and frustration. The freshman made only 4-of-17 shots and misfired on all five 3-point attempts, as Kansas crowded him with the type of defense that used to be WVU’s hallmark.
“You get past one person and you know there’s going to be another person right there,” Harris said. “I come off a screen and another guy steps out and helps. So I can’t get the ball, and even if I do get the ball, I barely have any space to shoot.
“On my part, I’ve got to work harder to get open, and on our part as a team, we’ve got to get better screens.”
For a how-to lesson, West Virginia needed only to watch the clinic Kansas displayed on the offensive end — particularly in arranging shots for is vaunted freshman Ben McLemore. The youngster scored 36 points on 15 shots, looking more and more like an NBA lottery pick with each flick of the wrist.
Of course, mighty McLemore wasn’t a one-man show.
Jayhawks 7-footer Jeff Withey scored 14 points on 7-of-8 shooting, knocking down four jumpers from 10 feet or more.
And point guard Elijah Johnson — five days removed from getting away with a charge that every armchair official in Ames and, indeed, America saw — didn’t replicate his 39-point performance but was very good nonetheless. He delivered 12 points, 10 assists and one crowd-pleasing superflex after discarding Jabarie Hinds on an and-one break.
“That’s about as efficient as we’ve been offensively all year,” said Kansas coach Bill Self in praise of his team’s 56-percent shooting. Of course, such a lopsided result begs the question: Was KU’s execution that sharp, or was West Virginia’s defense that soft?
Harris, reprising a storyline heard after numerous losses of late, saw a defensive letdown.
“Honestly, I think there was,” he said. “There might have been some lapses and (players) losing motivation. But that can be fixed, and it will be.”
His freshman season remains at least three games from the finish line, yet before exiting The Phog, Harris sounded hellbent on making sure his sophomore season doesn’t have these type of blowout losses.
“I’m not saying the season’s over, because we’ve still got games to go, but it’s a big learning experience for me and next year I’ll know how to fix things,” he said. “I’ll be more of a leader, and I’ll be able to step into that role. And I’ll make sure a lot of these things aren’t happening.”
What’s happening now is a losing season unlike any Bob Huggins has endured in the past 28 years. And Saturday’s pummeling against Kansas — so polished, skilled and experienced — highlighted once more all the things these Mountaineers aren’t.