KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nevermind the enormous vacancy Udoka Azubuike left in the middle. That hole didn’t seem nearly so big as the basket must’ve looked to those Kansas shooters.
Using a dazzling barrage of 3-pointers, the Jayhawks shot 72 percent in the second half and shot down West Virginia’s hopes in the Big 12 tournament title game, 81-70, on Saturday night.
“It felt like every shot they put up went in,” said Mountaineers guard Jevon Carter. “No matter what we did on defense, they made tough shots.”
They made 15-of-27 from 3-point range to be precise. Many of them contested over rapidly closing defenders. Several of those 3s threatened to blow the roof off the Sprint Center during a 25-7 game-ending surge in which West Virginia reluctantly played the comeback victim yet again.
Three times this season the Mountaineers led KU in the second half. Three times it didn’t stand up.
Unlike the earlier occasions, West Virginia (24-9) didn’t unravel under pressure. This Jayhawks rally was fueled by jumpers pure and smooth. Spreading the floor without the injured 7-foot center Azubuike in the low post, Kansas triggered with lethal accuracy.
West Virginia’s 63-56 lead didn’t stand a chance with Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailuk sniping from various areas.
“Kansas did one helluva job of knocking down shots,” said West Virginia’s Daxter Miles, whose 25 points would have been the headline most days. “Knocked down big shots.”
Newman scored 20 points and became the tournament MVP after a three-day stretch in which he scored 72. And in what felt like another of Graham’s crowning moments, the senior produced 18 points and 13 assists against only two turnovers.
On one possession, after Graham’s shooting sleeve became bunched around his wrist, he tossed the accessory into the crowd with one hand while dribbling with the other. Then Graham promptly drove for a pull-up jumper.
“(The defender) was pulling on my arm and it came down,” Graham said. “So I just threw it off and kept playing.”
And playing, and playing — for the full 40 minutes.
Mykhailuk added 16 points and freshman Silvio De Sousa contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds while going 8-of-8 from in close. Kansas (27-7) sank 14 of its last 18 shots, displaying a finishing kick that seemed convincing of an NCAA No. 1 seed.
“They shot the hell out of it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “They’re going to beat everybody when they do that.”
As for his own team, which settled for a third straight runner-up finish in Kansas City, Huggins conceded: “We’ve got great kids who play their tails off but aren’t as skilled.”
Carter finished with 17 points and nine assists, and Sagaba Konate had 18 points and three blocks. Neither could stem the late tide as West Virginia missed 11 of its final 13 shots.
Esa Ahmad failed to score on only four shots, though he did contribute six rebounds, a category WVU owned 37-27.
That couldn’t offset the Jayhawks’ torrid shooting or prevent them from climbing atop the victory platform for the eight time under Bill Self. They own half of the league’s 22 tournaments overall.
“I think this definitely validates what happened during the regular season,” Self said. “Nobody can say that Kansas caught a break or was lucky this year.”
West Virginia projects as either a 4- or 5-seed when the NCAA selection committee unveils its brackets Sunday night.
“We’ll be locked in,” Miles promised.