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Wiggins’ defense proves definitive as Kansas extinguishes upset bid

LAWRENCE, Kan. — While Andrew Wiggins dunked, spun and glided his way to 19 points, the freshman’s defense on West Virginia’s Eron Harris ultimately proved just as valuable to No. 8 Kansas.

After Harris made three consecutive 3-pointers to put the Mountaineers ahead early, Wiggins tightened up and held the WVU guard without a basket for the game’s final 31 minutes. That essentially nipped any notion of an upset, and the resulting 83-69 victory gave Kansas a two-game lead in the Big 12 standings.

“After he hit those three 3s, I had to guard him closer and be more aggressive,” said the 6-foot-8 Wiggins, who’s five-inch advantage helped close out the perimeter looks by Harris. “I tried to turn him into a driver instead of a shooter.”

Harris still managed 17 points—scoring his final eight points at the foul line—but missed his last six shots from the floor as West Virginia 14-10, 6-5) went cold from 3-point range and saw its three-game winning streak clipped.

“Wiggins did a great job,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “It crippled us today because Terry (Henderson) didn’t do what he typically does, and Remi (Dibo) didn’t make any. It was hard to score.”

Entering as the second-best 3-point team in the Big 12, WVU made only 26 percent (6-of-23). Dibo sank his first 3 only to finish 1-of-7, and Henderson was 0-of-2, part of a putrid two-point, three-turnover performance.

“We just had some guys that didn’t play very well today, but that happens sometimes,” Huggins said.

And when that happens at Allen Fieldhouse, visiting teams typically get blown out. West Virginia sought to buck that trend—backed by Juwan Staten’s 22-point game and trailing only 69-65 entering the final five minutes.

Yet the upset bid crumbled as Kansas scored seven unanswered points and WVU did not register another basket.

The Mountaineers shot 40 recent overall, compared to 55 percent by Kansas, which saw its other talented freshmen contribute in key situations. Guard Wayne Selden Jr. produced 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and 7-footer Joel Embiid overcame a scoreless opening half to close with 11 points and 12 rebounds.

As Kansas stretched its late-game lead to double-digits, Harris said “It seemed like there was nothing we could do about it. They were on a roll.” But he also pointed to a rematch at the WVU Coliseum on March 8 in the regular-season finale.

“We are confident we can get them at home,” he said.

Huggins, distilling positives from a game that was close late, seemed to agree. He left he postgame locker room and said: “I just told them in there, ‘We’re going to win in Morgantown. When they come back to Morgantown, we’re going to win.'”

The foul disparity was only 26-24, but West Virginia saw two big men foul out—Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins—and three other forwards closed the game with four fouls.

“(The officials) called stuffed today that they haven’t called all year in the post,” Huggins said. “And we did, we had our hands on them and technically that is a foul. … But you just run out of people.”

Kansas essentially played a nine-man rotation, same as West Virginia. But the reserve trio of Tarik Black (11 points), Frank Mason (five points, five assists) and Jamari Traylor (seven points) combined to make 8-of-10 shots and were particularly effective in the first half, when the lead changed hands five times before KU pulled ahead 43-36.

Kansas blocked six shots—three by Embiid—and enjoyed a 46-18 scoring edge in the paint.

“They’ve got such great athleticism,” Huggins said. “They’re so long and so athletic, it’s hard to get things at the rim.”

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