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West Virginia Leaves Points In Transition, Halfcourt In Defeat At Allen Fieldhouse

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It wasn't that West Virginia didn't have chances. It was that the Mountaineers failed to take advantage of far too many.

With nary a margin for error - Kansas is now 203-9 all-time in Allen Fieldhouse in 13 seasons under Bill Self - the Mountaineers were left wanting in both halfcourt and transition defense, where the Jayhawks rotated the ball effectively and hit 56 percent from the field, often on step-in threes. That was a 15 percent increase from the 41 percent clip they hit in WVU's 74-63 series win in the Coliseum on Jan. 12.

The Mountaineers, meanwhile, couldn't convert in transition themselves, costing double digit points with many of the misses coming via Jaysean Paige's lay-ins. Paige was challenging sizable defenders with difficult angles, and though the guard has done that all season, Kansas' length and ability to match speed in the open court proved a difference maker.  The senior, who had led with his leadership and execution, converted on just 5-of-16 shots. It was part of zero - zip, zlich - fast break points for the Mountaineers.

"We didn't score in transition; We had opportunities and we didn't score," head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "We must have missed six or seven lay-ups. We didn't score it close. We had a couple tip-ins that didn't go in. We had open shots. I can only put Jaysean so many places. I tried to hope that one of those other guys would make shots, and obviously they didn't."

Paige's shooting percentage wasn't too far off that of the entire team; West Virginia shot just 37 percent, and despite 18 more shots, had one fewer field goal than Kansas. That's an absurd statistic, that WVU could shoot it 59 times to KU's 41, but tally 22 makes to 23 for the Jayhawks.

It wasn't simply the missed shots. West Virginia suffered a deficit in rebounding at 33-28. All of that points to an offense that was more efficiently and effectively run by Kansas. The Jayhawks passed the ball as well as they have all season, and were able to collapse the Mountaineers' man look, then kick the ball back outside for open threes. Kansas hit seven in all, but it seemed like double that at times with the looks, including some off breaks of the WVU press.

"Our guys in the back stood by their guy instead of getting up the line and making a break on the ball," Huggins said of the Mountaineer pressure issues. "We needed to keep the ball out of Frank Mason's hands, and we didn't. And we came out a little pretty. We dive on the floor; 50-50 balls, we dive. We didn't do that."

West Virginia also compounded its inability to finish in transition with some misfires from point blank range on the block. Part of that was some lesser quality attempts, and some was the positioning of forwards Perry Ellis (game-high 21 points) and Landen Lucas (16 rebounds). The two were just as dominant on the offensive end, combining to connect on 11-of-14 shots to go with a 7-of-9 showing from the foul line.

It proved a difficult guard for whichever reserve big man was paired with Devin Williams. Neither Brandon Watkins nor Elijah Macon could guard Ellis away from the bucket, and that forced Nathan Adrian out on the All-Big 12 selection. Adrian was effective for most of the game, trying to manage being up front on the press with handling Ellis in the halfcourt while trying to add a dose of shooting; He finished with a pair of threes and eight total points before fouling out with 2:17 remaining.

"We didn't have enough people to play the way we play," Huggins said, alluding to the loss of Jonathan Holton for a fourth straight game due to his suspension for a violation of team rules. "We need more people. Our philosophy is our 10 is better than their 10. But now we are down to about eight for all practical purposes. We have to get other guys playing and other guys doing things."

Both teams are significantly better than they were earlier in the season. And it wasn't that the Mountaineers played particularly poorly. If anything, the game was a showcase of just how solid this team is, and how far Huggins and the coaching staff have brought West Virginia. WVU would have been blown out against likewise talent in similar venues throughout the vast majority of its history, yet was able to come in leading the Big 12 while still leaving with a share of the top spot with No. 3 Oklahoma and the sixth-rated Jayhawks.

The No. 10 Mountaineers rallied from down a dozen to get within 40-38 in the second half, and still threatened multiple times down the stretch before eventually wilting under the shooting and raw execution of Kansas. Still, at 19-5 overall, and in a three-way tie with OU and KU at 8-3 in the Big 12, West Virginia is positioned to challenge for a league title with seven games left, four at home.

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