Kansas defeats West Virginia, 60-53

  • 3 p.m., Jan. 4, 2020
  • Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, KS

Saturday, January 4, 2020

No. 3 Kansas earns tough win over No. 16 West Virginia in Big 12 opener

Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) goes hard for a bucket and a foul against West Virginia forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Christian Braun (2) goes hard for a bucket and a foul against West Virginia forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 at Allen Fieldhouse.


With his team lucky to be down just six points at halftime of Saturday’s Big 12 Conference opener against West Virginia, Kansas coach Bill Self fell back on the one word that means more to him than any other — toughness.

The result was a grind-it-out, 60-53 victory in which five Jayhawks played 93% of the second-half minutes.

“I just thought it was a game you have to play your toughest guys,” Self said after the win.

Kansas fans now know who KU’s tough guys are.

Sophomores Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji joined freshman Christian Braun in playing the entire second half on Saturday, and senior Udoka Azubuike and junior Marcus Garrett played all but a few minutes.

“That was kind of a theme throughout this whole week preparing for this game — toughness is going to win,” Braun said. “And that’s something I’ve always prided myself on. We’ve got a lot of tough dudes, and to be in that five toughest group is pretty cool.”

By boxing out, crashing the glass, diving on the floor and simply being willing to fight back when WVU big men Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe bullied them all over the floor, that quintet helped Kansas flip the script on a game that was dominated by 16th-ranked West Virginia (11-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12) for the first 20 minutes.

Tshiebwe in particular was a first-half nightmare for the Jayhawks, who had no answer for the 6-foot-9, 258-pound freshman.

In 17 first-half minutes, Tshiebwe tallied 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along with a whopping 10 rebounds, seven of them coming on the offensive glass.

“I tried to box him out and he wasn’t moving,” Azubuike marveled after the game. “He’s a grown man. I’ve never played against somebody like that. He’s hard to move in the paint, really physical, really strong.”

It’s that fact that made KU’s solution all the more head-scratching. Instead of tasking similarly-sized forward David McCormack (2 points and 3 rebounds in 10 minutes) or Silvio De Sousa (no points and 2 rebounds in 7 minutes) with slowing Tshiebwe down, Self turned to Braun, who was giving up three inches and more than 50 pounds to his counterpart in blue and gold.

Braun instantly made it look like a good move, proving that size alone was not the only way to win a hotly contested college basketball game.

In the first minute of the second half, Braun rebounded a missed free throw by Azubuike and funneled it back to the big fella for another easy deuce. Just like that, KU had cut the WVU lead to two with an eternity still to play.

“I thought he did really well,” Self said of Braun’s six points, five rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes. “He didn't get outside of who he was, played fairly conservative on offense but still yet made a couple of big plays and, defensively and and rebounding, did a good job going after the ball.”

“That’s my job,” Braun countered, refusing to claim that there was anything special about his performance on Saturday. “Make extra possessions for the team, offensive rebound, little stuff like that.”

Although those types of plays have defined Braun’s freshman season to this point, he delivered one play in Saturday’s game that looked like it came from a player much older and wiser.

Driving to his left across the lane, with Kansas trailing by a point, Braun knifed his way back toward the basket, finished a tough layup and saddled Tshiebwe with his third foul in the process. The ensuing free throw put Kansas up two and the Jayhawks never trailed again.

While Braun’s performance on both ends played a big role in grabbing that lead, no one was more impactful than Azubuike, who seemed to play with the theory that if you can’t go through your opponent, you might as well go over them.

Catching lob after lob from a variety of teammates in the second half, Azubuike finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high six blocks.

“Dok was the best player in the game the second half,” Self said after the win. “He was great.”

Asked to explain how he flipped the switch from getting pushed around and out-challenged to delivering daggers almost every time he touched the ball, Azubuike said the approach was simple.

“Coach kind of spoke to us, and we just came out with a different mindset in the second half,” he said.

It was more than that, though. Execution had something to do with it. For a team that has struggled to connect on lobs throughout early portion of the season, the Jayhawks (11-2, 1-0) made it clear that they had total faith in Azubuike to catch anything they threw near the rim on Saturday.

“It’s amazing to me,” Self began. “As much as we like to throw (lobs) we probably miss it 25-50% of time. But when we needed it, we got it today because we weren’t shooting the ball (well) and we had to get it at the basket.”

Although far from perfect, Saturday’s victory came the way the Jayhawks would have liked it. Second-half adjustments — to their minds and the game plan — helped Kansas prevail and the game as a whole served as a not-so-subtle reminder of what’s ahead during the next couple of months.

The rest of the Big 12 teams on KU’s schedule do not feature mountainous men like Culver and Tshiebwe. But all of them are capable of giving Kansas the kind of 40-minute fight the Mountaineers provided on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.

KU’s veterans will take the reminder. And the newcomers now know exactly what it looks like.

“This is all new to them,” Self noted. “Blue Valley Northwest did a great job of prepping (Braun) for college, but they didn’t prep him for that today. And there’s no high school out there that does prep you for that.”

The fun continues for Kansas on Wednesday at Iowa State in Ames, Iowa. Tipoff from Hilton Coliseum is slated for 7 p.m. on Big 12 Now/ESPN+.


Barry Weiss 1 year, 2 months ago

great article Matt. we needed a game like this. the conference grind is unlike just about anything before it.

Steve Zimmerman 1 year, 2 months ago

Hats off to Braun. He came ready to play today. I don't how many of those 'little things' he did defensively, but definitely helped us to seal one today. Offensively, he's the only one that has that move to the basket with guts - showing his IQ and athleticism. I wish he'd taken more 3s, though. But I'm excited he's growing in the right direction at the right time.

Doug Wallace 1 year, 1 month ago

It sounded like a interesting game!Of course we cant see it unless we get that retarded ESPN + Not going to have to pay more ill just catch the highlights on TV! KU (Little 12-2 teams)this plus thing sucks!

Glad we got the win today!

Brad Avery 1 year, 1 month ago

Yeah, it sounds like a great game. Too bad a lot of KU fans had to miss it, a circumstance our athletic director attributed to a conference decision to make us pay for streaming on top of the ridiculous tv bills we already pay. If that is accurate, the B12 is obviously a fan-unfriendly conference.

W Keith Swinehart II 1 year, 1 month ago

The entertainment landscape is changing. Streaming is growing. Big companies are moving in and creating entertainment packages. TV viewers are buying in.

Who knows what is next. But instead of criticizing the changes it is far wiser to embrace the movement. Smart flat screen TV's are available and cheap. No computer necessary. It's like magazine subscriptions of old but better. And it will only get better.

Wait and watch if you want. But change is here and it's not going to stop. Join the fun.

Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 1 month ago

Duke, UK, and UNC have more games available only via stream than we do. It's not like this is unique to us.

Bob Thompson 1 year, 1 month ago

Not everyone has the band width to watch tv over the internet.

Marc Frey 1 year, 1 month ago

I finally ponied up the $4.99 a month last Sept. (It took my 29 yr old son to offer to pay for me) With the big ESPN payouts to schools and Fox sports losing market share, this pay per view type service was inevitable. On the plus side, the ESPN+ broadcasts show post game interviews and such, that we never get on regular ESPN as they have to cram in a game in 2 hours. I will drop my subscription in April, if I find I am not watching any other shows. Then pony back up in Sept. I can find other ways to waste $35.00 a year, but this might as well be it. Rock Chalk!

Jeff Foster 1 year, 1 month ago

Regarding the ESPN+ comments, most bars still can get and air those games. I bought it during football season because for $5/mo, it's worth it to me. Wasn't happy about it, but that's our landscape these days. Just wait until every team's TV deals are up and watch the bidding wars escalate between the traditional networks, Facebook, Twitch, Amazon, etc. They'll all get involved and whether it's right or wrong for fans, the teams will take whomever they can get the most money from. Doesn't change the fact that I still hate the self-serving Jeff Long.

Mallory Briggans 1 year, 1 month ago

I didnt have any reservations about signing up for ESPN+ Its cheaper than going to a game and paying parking or paying for an uber ..Its cheaper than that hot dog or soft drink or two . Its funny the outrage by those who feel 4.99 is a ripoff ( and maybe so ) Some of the same people go to starbucks everyday of the week ........and that can add up ....we are living in a new age . Advertisers sponsors networks and schools all need to work on new revenue streams so we can enjoy the games that are for free.

Brian Skelly 1 year, 1 month ago

The ESPN+ thing still sucks all around. And I say that as a consumer of ESPN+ who loves it.

The fact that KU put T E N games on it (1/3rd of the schedule) is absurd beyond belief. THAT is what has to change.

Sorry, there's not enough voltage in the world to convince me that having a conference game with two ranked teams playing on a broadcast EXCLUSIVELY on the internet -- behind a paywall no less -- is good for the fans, or even the programs.

If all KU had on ESPN+ was some of the more unappealing non-conference games I'd really be okay with it. 4 or 5 games would be fine.

Considering how many games involving lesser teams were on over the air TV and cable yesterday, its an abomination that KU and WVU were on steaming only.

Shannon Gustafson 1 year, 1 month ago

Duke, UK, and UNC have more games available only via stream than we do. It's not like this is unique to us.

Nobody expected WVU to be ranked this year, though those are good/close games year after year. I do agree that it sucks that both WVU games are on there but ultimately, there are much more worthless things people waste $5 on than watching KU play. Most people waste at least $5 a week (or even a day) on coffee, cigs, alcohol, going out to eat, going to the movies, getting popcorn or a drink at the movies, going to bars, etc.

Adam James 1 year, 1 month ago

Back to the game here all.... Is anyone concerned that Ochai and Dotson have settled into average players. I would say there is a real possibility that both will be back next year. Neither of them are a consistent threat from the perimeter and Dotson has been so carless with the ball at crucial times. The rest of our team has improved and has played consistently and have improved. IMO what is holding us back from begin great and reaching our ceiling is Dotson and Ochai and based on what I've seen I don't think they are going to get there. I hope I'm wrong. Just taking care of the ball alone, if these two were better with the ball we would be undefeated right now. They had 11 of our 28 turnovers vs. Duke and 5 of our 12 vs. Villanova. This is unacceptable for a backcourt at this level. I know they play a ton of minutes, so these numbers are naturally higher, but most of the turnovers are not due to great defense, but silly fundamental mistakes. I'm excited to see what happens with this team in the new year, but we all need to realize that this team will go as far as Ochai and Dotson take us. Offensively, Defensively and taking care of the ball by setting up teammates. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out. RCJH!!

Barry Weiss 1 year, 1 month ago

I agree somewhat Adam. Ochai just rarely seems to put the ball on the court and take it to the rim. Maybe he feels we need the 3 ball, but I'd like to see him drive more, get to the FT line, etc. Devon seems a tad off, but not much. He use to make a high percentage at the rim, but I think teams are really trying to shut off his drives.

Mallory Briggans 1 year, 1 month ago

Brian i do agree with you on the fact that WVU and Kansas was not on regular ESPN ...thats a marquee match-up ......I m old enough to remember life before ESPN and when the NBA finals were on tape delay .... We've gotten spoiled with the convenience of the games aired for free.

Allin Herring 1 year, 1 month ago

I signed up for EDPN + to s÷ the KU games. Since we have to pay can ESPN please get some announcers with are worth a crap? The two covering this game were horrible

Mallory Briggans 1 year, 1 month ago

hey Allin could have been worse .......It could have been Bill Walton doing the game.

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