LAWRENCE, Kan. — Beetle Bolden was redshirting on the West Virginia bench in 2016 when he first absorbed the Phog Allen Fieldhouse experience.
“You couldn’t hear yourself,” he said. “I was trying to talk to the guy next to me and he couldn’t hear me. It was just loud.”
It grew even louder last season — verifiably so — when Kansas fans set a Guiness World Record for noisiest indoor sporting event. Eclipsing 130 decibels, the crowd watched the Jayhawks rally from 14 points down in the final 3 minutes of regulation and win 84-80 in overtime.
The deja vu wafted strong for West Virginia, which previously had squandered an 18-point cushion in 2015 and lost 76-69, also in OT.
Coach Bob Huggins tried summarize what his team must do to end its 0-5 drought at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Maybe not throwing it to them at the end of the game. Maybe get a whistle your way once or a loose ball your way, maybe a shot to fall for you,” he said. “We’ve had a whole litany of things that have gone wrong at the end of games there.”
Missed opportunities present a blessing/curse paradigm for Bolden and the No. 20 Mountaineers (19-7, 8-5), who must break through in Lawrence in order to remain in the Big 12 title hunt.
They currently sit third in the standings, a game behind the No. 13 Jayhawks (20-6, 9-4) and two back of Texas Tech.
“It’s one of the best arenas in the country, but we know we can go in there and come out with a win,” Bolden said. “We just have to have energy, focus and close the game out.”
Bolden and freshman Teddy Allen are five days removed from helping West Virginia to a 38-8 edge in bench scoring during their 82-66 win over TCU. The bench figures to have an advantage against Kansas, which essentially used a seven-man rotation during its past two games. Opposing reserves are outscoring KU’s bench by 3.6 points per game.
Coach Bill Self’s 231-13 home mark is unfathomable, though Kansas has lost three times in Lawrence this season to Arizona State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Such struggles in the legendary arena were foreign to Cole Aldrich, whose No. 45 jersey will be retired Saturday in conjunction with honoring the 2008 national championship team. Aldrich’s squads went 55-0 at home over three seasons.
No. 20 West Virginia (19-7, 8-5) at No. 13 Kansas (20-6, 9-4)
Tipoff: Saturday, 6:15 p.m. in Lawrence, Kan. (ESPN)
The skinny: Kansas was plus-18 during the second half at Morgantown, easily its widest margin in conference play this season. (In nonlaeague action KU outscored Nebraska-Omaha by 19 after halftime.} The Jayhawks beat WVU 71-66 and are aiming for the first series sweep since 2013. … Udoka Azubuike (13.9 points, 7.1 rebounds) leads the nation in field-goal shooting at 76.5 percent and could break the Big 12 record of 69.3 percent set by Mizzou’s Ricardo Ratliffe in 2011-12. … The Jayhawks’ other four starters all average double figures and play more than 30 minutes, led by seniors Devonte Graham (17.5 points, 7.2 assists) and Svi Mykhailiuk (15.6 points). The Ukrainian Mykhailiuk shots 44 percent from 3 but is in a 4-of-22 slump.
Scouting WVU: Jevon Carter ranks fourth in Big 12 scoring (16.9), first in steals (3.2) and fourth in assists (6.6). … Sagaba Konate (10.4 points, 8.0 rebounds) is an emerging big man who will be tested by KU’s 7-footer. Konate can afford to give a few fouls in the post, considering Azubuike is a 42-percent free-trow shooter. … Daxter Miles (11.8 points) had a breakout game as a freshman at The Phog in that 2015 loss, scoring 23 points. … WVU has gone 4-6 since the reinstatement of Esa Ahmad (9.9 points, 4.3 rebounds) from suspension.
Quotable: “Well then, we need five wins, don’t we? And we’ve got a chance if we keep playing this hard.” — Bob Huggins on WVU’s league title hopes with five regular-season games left
Quotable, part II: “We don’t like them. They don’t like us. Coach Huggins gets 25K anytime he beats us. I don’t like that. We don’t want to give him any extra money.” — Kansas guard Devonte Graham
RPIs: West Virginia 30, Kansas 8
Line: Kansas favored by 4
Prediction: Kansas 79-77