Devin Williams scored 31 points to go along with 10 rebounds, but he didn’t get much help from his teammates, none of whom scored more than seven points.
“I just focused in and I just wanted it so bad for my guys and for us, for this program,” explained Williams. “I was just trying to do whatever it took to get, you know, get the win.
“KU is a great team,” added the junior forward. “They have a great coaching staff. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t anything that KU did, to be honest. It was more of us. We missed a lot of free throws, and so many shots we were hitting earlier in the tournament, we didn’t make. That was pretty much it. It was more on our hands more than what KU did.”
The Jayhawks wound up with three players who scored at least 17 points, led by sophomore guard Devonte Graham, who poured in 27 points while hitting 5-of-6 three-point attempts.
As a team, KU nailed 9-of-15 shots from beyond the arc, as not only Graham but also Wayne Selden (21 points, 3-of-5 on threes) proved deadly from deep.
Meanwhile West Virginia, which had connected on at least 10 three-pointers in each of its two previous Big 12 Championship victories this week, struggled mightily to recapture that shooting touch. It made only 2-of-15 three-point attempts, and if you take away Williams’ 9-of-12 performance from the floor and 13-of-15 effort from the foul line, the rest of the Mountaineers were 17-of-45 from the field and 4-of-9 on free throws. KU countered by going 22-of-25 from the charity stripe.
“We couldn’t make a shot,” stated WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “We shoot 13 percent from three, and they shoot 60 percent. We just couldn’t make one. We just didn’t make shots when you need to make shots and they did. You have to give them credit, because they’ve made them. Hopefully one day there will be a day when they don’t make them and we do, you know. It’s kind of the way it goes.
“Kansas is the best team in the country, and we turned it over 20 times,” added Huggins. “We’re not going to win that way; that’s just an impossibility. We’ve got to get a lot more shots than what our opponents do. We only got nine more shots, but that’s because we threw it to them, so we’re a very charitable bunch.
After trailing WVU 34-33 at halftime, Kansas controlled the first 11 minutes of the second half. The Jayhawks had turned that one-point halftime deficit into a 60-46 KU advantage by dissecting the normally stingy Mountaineer defense. The No. 1 team in the country hit on 11-of-15 shots from the floor during that stretch, four of those makes coming from three-point range.
But just when it appeared the Jayhawks would run away and hide, West Virginia began to get some live-ball turnovers, and quickly that 14-point KU lead shrunk to four.
And with 4:04 remaining, after the Jayhawks’ 19th turnover of the game, the Mountaineers’ Tarik Phillip went to the line for a pair of foul shots with a chance to cut the margin down to two. But the junior guard missed both those attempts, and WVU’s hopes of a comeback fell away with those misses. Kansas had just one more turnover, made all three of its field goal attempts and all seven of its free throw opportunities in the final four minutes to hold off West Virginia’s comeback try and seal its 10th Big 12 title.
While the Jayhawks had 20 turnovers, so did the Mountaineers, and it was KU that took better advantage of those miscues, outscoring West Virginia 26-15 on points off turnovers.
The 31 points by Williams was a career high. He also recorded his 15th double-double of the season, more than any other Big 12 player this year.
The Mountaineers may of come up short in trying to capture their first-ever Big 12 Tournament championship, but they still have meaningful basketball left in front of them. Likely a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, WVU will find out the details behind its seed, opponent and destination on Selection Sunday. It will then start NCAA play on Thursday or Friday.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” said Williams of the NCAAs. “First, we’ve got to see where we’re going. We got 240 minutes left (the equivalent of the six NCAA games it takes the make it through the finals); that was most of the talk in the locker room – 240 minutes. We’re just going to take it one game at a time and bounce back.”
“We came here to win a championship, and we fell short of that,” added WVU senior guard Jaysean Paige, who was limited to six points Saturday night. “But we still had a great season, and we’ve still got a lot ahead of us. So we’re going to get back to work and get ready for the NCAA Tournament.”