LAWRENCE, Kan. — Coach Bob Huggins says 10th-ranked West Virginia “probably won’t have Jon Holton” when it visits No. 6 Kansas on Tuesday night.
Then again, the Mountaineers handled the forward’s absence just fine while beating Iowa State and Baylor last week and ascending to the top of the Big 12.
Now they go back to Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas owns a 36-game winning streak and where West Virginia is 0-3 as a Big 12 member.
“I don’t think this group has a lot of fear,” Huggins said. “Some people go in thinking they can’t win, but these guys don’t ever do that. They go in thinking they’re going to win.”
That feeling exists regardless of Holton’s status.
The circumstances of his suspension—and what the senior must do to be reinstated—appear partially beyond Huggins’ control. Following Saturday night’s win over Baylor, the coach offered no timetable for a return.
“I really don’t know. I wish I knew.”
Kansas coach Bill Self suggested this is another opportunity for Huggins to show how masterfully he deploys a roster’s interchangeable parts. Since Holton was suspended Jan. 28, Nathan Adrian has enjoyed a productive three-game stretch: 10-of-17 shooting, 16 rebounds, four steals, four assists and one turnover.
“I think Huggs does the best job of anybody in our league,” Self said Monday. “Regardless of what pieces he has, they all fill their role.”
West Virginia (19-4, 8-2) won this season’s first meeting in Morgantown 74-63, knocking Kansas (19-4, 7-3) out of the No. 1 ranking and starting the reigning champs down a stretch of three consecutive double-digit road losses.
“The last time we played these guys, they whipped us,” Self said. “They basically out-toughed us.”
The Mountaineers were plus-12 in turnover margin that night, outscoring Kansas 32-18 in the paint, 33-13 at the foul line and 40-10 off the bench. Though Holton grabbed eight rebounds, he was otherwise ineffective offensively (two points on 1-for-7 shooting) and did not record a steal in 26 minutes.
Tipoff: 7 p.m. Eastern in Lawrence, Kan. (ESPN2)
RPIs: Kansas 6, West Virginia 10
Scouting Kansas: Wayne Selden is a looser, more productive player at home who shoots 45 percent from 3, compared to 24 percent in road games. His scoring average climbs to 15.9 points at Phog Allen compared to 8.5 points away. Selden committed six turnovers in the Morgantown loss. … Even WVU players were surprised when cont guard Frank Mason (13.0 points, 4.7 assists) lost seven turnovers in the first meeting. … Perry Ellis (16.7 points, 6.7 rebounds) is warming up to his new nickname, “The Blender,” based on the quick footwork he flashes on low-post spin moves. While the senior has heard a gazillion one-liners from opposing fans about how old he appears, the funniest move, he said, was when “They changed my Wikipedia page to where I’m like 74 years old.” … Kansas is 202-9 at home since Self took over in 2003-2004. … Guards Devonte Graham (10.7 points, 3.7 assists), Brannen Greene (6.5 points, 55-percent on 3s) and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (5.8 points, 1.3 rebounds) are key role players. … Blue-chip 6-9 freshmen forwards Carlton Bragg Jr. (4.3 points, 2.7 rebounds) and Cheick Diallo (3.9 points, 2.7 rebounds) haven’t emerged to the extent they were expected.
WVU trends: West Virginia has attempted 667 free throws this season, 149 more than Kansas. …The national leader in steals and forced turnovers, WVU has pulled back on its full-court pressure without Holton. … Devin Williams (13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds) wasn’t fixated on watching the Big 12 standings just because his team is on top. “We’ve got what, eight games left? Maybe like with three games or four games left is when we can start thinking about it more. But it’s too early now. This conference is so tough. We’ve just got to to keep playing and grinding teams out and just out-toughing teams.” … Sixth man Jaysean Paige (14.2 points, 2.7 rebounds) enters the game fresh off earning Big 12 player of the week honors. … Daxter Miles (10.8 points) is coming off a season-high 20 points vs. Baylor. … Point guard Jevon Carter (10.2 points, 3.5 assists) has been in a severe shooting slump but doled out eight assists against the Bears.
Line: Kansas -4
Prediction: Kansas 78-74