Kansas City, Mo. — The intensity and atmosphere inside Sprint Center hit a new high for this year’s Big 12 tournament Saturday night, as top-seeded Kansas and always-pesky West Virginia put on a championship-worthy show in front of the pro-KU crowd.
With their senior leader and a freshman big man propelling them, the Jayhawks prevailed 81-70 for the program’s 11th Big 12 tournament crown.
KU point guard Devonte’ Graham took over late after freshman backup forward Silvio De Sousa kept his team afloat.
De Sousa came through with the best game of his young career, and his first college double-double, providing 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
View a gallery of images from Saturday's Big 12 Tournament championship game between the Jayhawks and Mountaineers at Sprint Center.
Malik Newman (20 points, six rebounds) led Kansas in scoring once again, earning the Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, while Graham went for 18 points and 13 assists.
Lagerald Vick (10 points, five rebounds) and Svi Mykhailiuk (16 points) also finished in double figures as the Jayhawks improved to 27-7 headed into next week’s NCAA Tournament.
Graham also made the Big 12’s all-tournament team, as did WVU’s Jevon Carter (17 points, nine assists) and Daxter Miles Jr. (25 points). Kansas State’s Makol Mawien was the fifth member of the all-tourney team.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: The Big 12 Player of the Year took over in the second half.
The Mountaineers couldn’t find defensive stops in the final 20 minutes, and that had as much to do with Graham giving his best performance of the tournament as anything.
After a two-point first half (Graham also dished six assists and only committed one turnover) KU’s senior leader got rolling in the second half once he made his first 3-pointer of the night with 13:28 to play.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, as well as All-Big 12 tournament honorees Malik Newman and Devonte' Graham, explain how the Jayhawks emerged from a heated conference title game as 81-70 victors over West Virginia.
What followed was a classic performance from an all-time great KU guard, as the senior from Raleigh, N.C., totaled 16 second-half points and distributed seven assists with the postseason title on the line.
WVU led as late as the 8:27 mark of the second half. But Graham pushed the Jayhawks past the tough-minded Mountaineers.
• Offensive highlight: A prep basketball player just a few months ago, De Sousa ran like Mitch Lightfoot and finished like Udoka Azubuike on a fast break that closed out KU’s first half.
Graham sprinted out to the wing as Newman secured a defensive rebound and spotted the point guard for an outlet pass.
As Graham pushed the ball hard down the right side of the floor, De Sousa sprinted down the middle, pointing toward the rim to let his guard know where to meet him with a pass.
Of course, Graham put it on the money, and De Sousa delivered a monstrous, two-handed jam. The freshman headed to the locker room with 10 points in 13 minutes, and the Jayhawks only trailed WVU 34-33.
• Defensive highlight: WVU is known for its turnover-inducing defensive pressure, but Kansas showed it can take the ball away, too.
The Jayhawks finished with seven steals to the Mountaineers’ five.
KU scored 10 points off turnovers while West Virginia wasn’t able to thrive in that category like so many Bob Huggins-coached teams have in the past, netting 11 points off 10 KU miscues.
• Key stat: Three-pointers. The Jayhawks put on quite the long-range display, nailing 15 of 27 from downtown.
Newman drilled 6 of 8 and Mykhailiuk buried 4 of 8 as Kansas scored 45 points from behind the arc to WVU’s 24 (8 of 24).
• Up next: The Jayhawks will head back to Lawrence and wait to see who they will draw in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They don’t know their seed line or opponent for certain yet (though a No. 1 is a near lock), but they can enter Selection Sunday confident their next stop will be in Wichita, for a Thursday game at INTRUST Bank Arena.