The thing is, there's no "right" or "wrong" way to look at this one. Credit is due to West Virginia for playing the Jayhawks off their feet for much of the game, and in doing so without Juwan Staten or Gary Browne. And with a banged up Devin Williams and Jaysean Paige. But just as certainly, the fundamental mistakes the Mountaineers made down the stretch, including missed free throws, passes to nowhere and shot attempts that barely qualified as such, doomed WVU to a loss that could stick with it for some time. So, which outlook should be taken -- and more importantly, how will the Mountaineers respond on Saturday against Oklahoma State and in postseason play?
First, we need to dismiss the opinion that this game didn't mean a whole lot. Granted, the result might have meant the difference in one spot in seeding for the Big 12 Championship, but there was much more riding on this one that the starting time on Thursday in Kansas City. Beating Kansas in hoops is big anytime, and the chance to sweep them in conference play is a rarity indeed. It's never happened in the Bill Self era, and WVU was one free throw in regulation away from achieving it.
A win also would have given the Mountaineers a chance for 12 league wins - again, no mean feat, especially given the preseason predictions for this team. It would have helped build momentum heading into the season finale and postseason, and certainly would have been a confidence boost for everyone involved.
Granted, some of that might still exist. West Virginia answered Kansas scoring bursts with big shots for much of the game, especially from Daxter Miles, Tarik Phillip and Jonathan Holton. It didn't implode so much as suffer a slow collapse, and that shouldn't put a damper on the good things the Mountaineers did overall. However, on the plane ride home, good feelings are going to be hard to find. Everyone that saw the court will be mulling the fact that just one more play -- one field goal, one free throw, one rebound -- would have given West Virginia the win in regulation.
It's also important at this point that WVU not get caught up in perceived officiating shortcomings. Granted, there were bad calls to be overcome, as well as a 43-28 free throw deficit, but if the players themselves start worrying about that, it could be fatal. This team has to play aggressively, and it can't back down. It has to show the mental toughness it has displayed and bounce back from this two-loss road swing with a good effort on Senior Day, and then get ready for a tough Thursday night assignment in the Big 12 Championship.
"We have to get 'em back up," head coach Bob Huggins said afterward. "We expended a tremendous amount of energy. We need to have guys give us more productive minutes."
With those simple statements, Huggins outlined the best way to look at this game. Build on the positives, correct the negatives, and try to win the next one. And certainly, don't let the outcome of this game -- or the perception of West Virginia's performance -- linger.