LAWRENCE, Kan. — Udoka Azubuike had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Devon Dotson and Marcus Garrett made crucial plays down the stretch, and third-ranked Kansas rallied to beat No. 16 West Virginia 60-53 in its Big 12 opener Saturday.
Dotson added 16 points and Garrett finished with 12 points and six assists for the Jayhawks (11-2), who won their 28th straight conference opener by overcoming a sluggish first half. Kansas trailed by as many as 10 before leaning on defense and dunks to beat the Mountaineers (11-2) for the seventh time in their last eight meetings.
Oscar Tshiebwe had 17 points and 17 rebounds for West Virginia, though almost all his production came during a big first half. Fellow freshman Miles McBride added 13 points, most of that coming as the Mountaineers tried to close the gap in the final minutes of their eighth consecutive loss in Allen Fieldhouse.
Kansas won despite shooting 3 of 17 from beyond the arc — mostly because West Virginia wasn’t any better. The Big 12’s best defensive team couldn’t solve the Jayhawks’ own defense in the second half, when the Mountaineers shot 28 percent from the field and missed all of their 3-point attempts.
It was a much different story from the first half, when Kansas was fortunate to trail 30-24 in the locker room.
It wasn’t that West Virginia dominated the game. It was that Tshiebwe dominated it.
The bruising McDonald’s All-American was 6 of 8 from the field, scored 15 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, all while flexing and strutting to the jeering of a sold-out field house. On the defensive end, the 260-pound freshman proved to be one of the few players in the Big 12 who could match the Jayhawks’ own big man with brute strength.
Azubuike had 10 points and seven rebounds, but he wasn’t the game-changer the Jayhawks have come to expect.
Those roles reversed early in the second half, though, when Tshiebwe suddenly looked like a first-year player. He committed a foul when Azubuike slammed an ally-oop dunk — and completed the and-one — and committed another foul on the next possession, when freshman guard Christian Braun finished over Tshiebwe for another three-point play.
Azubuike slammed a second alley-oop over Tshiebwe to cap an 8-0 run later in the half, giving the Jayhawks a 45-38 lead and sending a once-subdued crowd packed inside the Phog into a frenzy. Then, the senior center did it a third time to give Kansas a 49-42 lead as the game approached the final media timeout.
The Mountaineers got within 52-49 on a jumper by Taz Sherman with 1 1/2 left, but Garrett answered with a scooping layup. And when McBride made two foul shots for West Virginia, the junior guard added two of his own.
Dotson took care of the rest with a series of foul shots that put the game away.
West Virginia’s only other loss this season came St. John’s in early December, so coach Bob Huggins’ team came into Lawrence with a bunch of momentum. And while the Mountaineers carried that through a bruising first half, they seemed to wilt the minute they emerged from the locker room for the final 20 minutes.
Kansas has won high-scoring affairs this season, but this time the Jayhawks proved they could win a game that had all the finesse of a couple dump trucks playing bumper cars. They forced West Virginia into 16 turnovers while allowing just seven assists, but they also gave up 15 second-chance points while getting just four themselves.
West Virginia makes another long trip to Oklahoma State on Monday night.
Kansas heads to Hilton Coliseum to face Iowa State on Wednesday night.