MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Back from the nuclear atmosphere inside Allen Fieldhouse, and having rewatched what I saw and thought I saw in person, here are my four takeaways on West Virginia’s 77-69 come-from-ahead loss to Kansas:
35-2 wasn’t that wrong
My take from courtside? There weren’t a lot of obvious missed calls despite the fact that the aggregate free-throw disparity looked ridiculously one-sided.
The only call that 100-percent stunk involved Lamont West being victimized on a hilariously obvious flop by 7-footer Udoka Azubiuike. That was egregrious. Otherwise, Kansas mostly was rewarded for attacking on offense and beating the Mountaineers’ defenders to spots.
Some outrage over 35-2 is a given because officiating crews typically “manage” the game to keep the foul numbers in the same stratosphere. (That’s no lesser a sin, in my book. Refs should just call what’s there and let the numbers land where they may.)
The assessed foul total was West Virginia 26 and Kansas 14. Recall that WVU came in as the 19th-most foul-prone team out of 351 schools in Division I (21 per game). Kansas is the 17th-least foul-prone team in America (15 per game).
Miles regains touch?
Offensive consistency hasn’t been the hallmark of Daxter Miles, but West Virginia hopes his 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range in Lawrence sparks him out of a season-long shooting slump. The senior now stands at career-worst 28 percent, though in a strange twist, his coaches actually regretted him not shooting on two occasions late Saturday. His inclination to trade open jumpers for dump-downs into the lane was selfless but ill-advised, because both passes became turnovers.
Miles took the loss hard. He’ll finish his career 0-4 at The Phog despite being in position to win three times there. Still, if that 22-point night helped him regain confidence in his stroke, the loss may not have come in vain.
Ahmad’s small impact
Over the final 36 minutes, Esa Ahmad had zero shots and just two rebounds while committing three fouls and throwing away two passes in the post. I think Huggins and the staff normally would have gone to the bench but were fearful of Kansas carving up Teddy Allen on defense.
After leading the Mountaineers in free-throw attempts as a sophomore, Ahmad hasn’t put the same kind of pressure on defenses this season. In last week’s games against TCU and Kansas, he averaged 2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds while shooting 2-of-7 from the floor and 1-of-2 at the foul line.
His best moment at The Phog was wrestling a rebound away from Svi Mykhailiuk. Ahmad needs more assertive moments like that if WVU is to make a postseason run. He’s no longer merely a role player.
What it means
With Texas Tech losing Saturday, West Virginia missed its chance to pull within a game of the conference lead. With four league games left, simply holding onto third-place appears to be the ceiling.
For NCAA tournament watchers, West Virginia remains a projected No. 5 seed by Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi. The CBS bracket forecasts Boise as a destination while ESPN’s points toward San Diego.
The Mountaineers fell one spot to No. 21 in the AP poll, marking their 51st consecutive week in the rankings. That’s just five weeks away from matching the program’s longest streak of 56 from March 1956 to March 1960.
Next up is Tuesday night’s game in Waco against white-hot Baylor, which has won five straight to surface on the NCAA bubble. Huggins teams, by the way, are undefeated the past four seasons following losses at Kansas.