In an old-school basketball game, KU’s big man stood taller than the rest.
A strong second half by center Udoka Azubuike helped No. 3 Kansas power past No. 16 West Virginia, 60-53, Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks (11-2) have now won 29-straight conference openers dating back to the 1991-92 season.
Kansas now leads the overall series with West Virginia, 13-5, which includes wins in seven of the previous eight meetings.
Freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe was dominant in the first half, helping the Mountaineers (11-2) lead by as many 10 early on. The Jayhawks then countered with a number of dunks by Azubuike in the second half, many of which came off designed lobs.
Azubuike led Kansas with 17 points in the win, converting on all six of his attempts from the floor. He scored 11 of those points in the second half alone. Sophomore guard Devon Dotson added 16 points for the Jayhawks.
West Virginia pulled within 52-49 at the 1:28 mark to make things interesting. Junior Marcus Garrett then responded with a strong left-handed drive to give the hosts a much-needed bucket. WVU made it a one-possession game again, but Garrett then proceeded to hit a pair of clutch free throws on the other end.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: Kansas didn’t reclaim the lead early in the second half, but it allowed the hosts to get back in it.
Trailing 30-24 at the intermission, the Jayhawks came out on an 8-2 run in the first two-plus minutes of the second half. In fact, Kansas recorded 33% of its scoring production from the first half in the first 2:29 to even the score at 32-32.
The stretch ended with a 3-pointer from the corner by Ochai Agbaji, forcing West Virginia to call a timeout. It was a back-and-forth battle by both teams after that.
• Offensive highlight: There weren’t too many plays in the first half that stood out.
Late in the first half, Azubuike recorded the team’s only dunk of the first 20 minutes. But the sequence that set the whole thing up was the interesting part of KU’s lone first-half slam.
Kansas junior Marcus Garrett attacked the rim with a strong crossover, creating a good opportunity in the lane. West Virginia big man Derek Culver, who had two fouls at the time, helped over and was unable to do enough defensively. Garrett flipped a pass to Azubuike, who finished things off with a powerful slam.
Azubuike had a pair of better dunks off nice passes in the second half, including this one that eventually gave Kansas its first lead since it led by a 3-2 margin.
• Defensive highlight: In the first half, Azubuike recorded three blocks for the Jayhawks.
One particular block got KU’s crowd into the game, taking place just over five minutes into the contest. West Virginia attempted to take advantage of Azubuike on a switch, something it accomplished a number of times in the Big 12 opener.
This time around, Azubuike swatted the attempt along the perimeter. He proceeded to take it himself to the other end, earning a trip to the free throw line.
• Key stat: The Jayhawks trailed by double-digits at times in the first half due to their inability to get much going offensively.
View a gallery of images from Saturday's game between the Jayhawks and Mountaineers at Allen Fieldhouse.
KU ultimately trailed by a 30-24 margin at the intermission, but left a lot of points on the table. Kansas went just 6-for-13 from the free throw line in the first half, which made a difference throughout the first 20 minutes.
The Jayhawks finished with a 19-for-30 effort from the charity stripe in the conference opener.
• Up next: Kansas will travel to Iowa State at 7 p.m. Wednesday.