Perhaps this might be a bit dramatic, but on Sunday morning, West Virginia’s basketball team woke up alone in first place in the Big 12.
The three-year journey there was not an easy one, and it remains incomplete, for there is still half of the Big 12 regular season left to play and the second half begins with the toughest of all assignments, going into Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, to play the 11-time defending champions of the Big 12, the Kansas Jayhawks.
This is a team that won or shared the last 11 titles and remains hungry to make it an even dozen.
To get there, though, they must gain one game at least on Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers, and this gives them a chance to do that and make a statement right away.
“A buddy of mine told me one time when we were pretty good, ‘Make sure you tell them the dog with the bone is always in danger,’ ” Huggins said in the aftermath of Saturday night’s 80-69 victory over Baylor before 14,069 Coliseum fans. “There’s a lot of truth to that. When you have what everyone else wants, you’ve got a whole bunch of people trying to get it.”
…Perhaps most interesting has been the fact that at this key juncture in the season, they have had to go about their business shorthanded, missing the key element in both their press and their rebounding as Jonathan Holton has sat out the last three games.
…Does Holton return for Kansas?
Huggins said he didn’t know, but wished he did, which would seem to say that the decision is not in his hands.
KUAD: Kansas hosts West Virginia pregame notes
Kansas heads into the week with a 19-4 overall record and a 7-3 conference record, good for a second-place tie with Oklahoma and Texas, one game behind West Virginia, one game ahead of Baylor and Iowa State. That’s right, one hole into the back nine, six schools remain in the hunt for the Big 12 title.
Nationally, the scramble for No. 1 is no less crowded, no easier to try to project.
The Jayhawks could move up a spot from their No. 7 ranking when the new Associated Press poll is released early this afternoon.
Despite the lofty ranking, only a sweep this week can sustain the positive mojo generated from lopsided victories against the Horned Frogs and Wildcats.
The answer to the question regarding these bouncing around so many minds — was that 1-3 road start to the conference season just a bump in the road toward a 12th consecutive Big 12 title, or is this team not quite championship-caliber? — awaits.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball. They go out there and force a lot of turnovers,” Traylor said. The Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers against the Mountaineers’ full-court press. “We also had a lot of breakdowns defensively against them. We had a terrible game defensively.”
West Virginia actually managed a double-digit victory versus KU on a night the Mountaineers hit 33.3 percent of their shots and went 3-of-12 from three. Jaysean Paige torched KU for 26 points off 6-of-13 shooting. He was 14-of-17 from the line.
“That was kind of the start of our little lapse where we played tired,” KU coach Bill Self said.
That was the first of three straight road losses in the league, the others at Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
“You can’t play tired against those guys. They’ll kick your tail,” Self said. “We’ve got to be better, attack them better. At least we get two days to prepare this time. Last time we had one (after winning at Texas Tech). We’re excited about it. It should be an unbelievable atmosphere in the fieldhouse (with first place on line). It’s certainly a huge game for us with league implications.”
…Traylor realizes his own role this week will be to continue to bring energy to a KU team in the midst of a fierce battle for the league crown.
“I have to be aggressive, give my team chances to score more points,” said Traylor, who had five offensive rebounds Saturday. “It’s what I’m here for. I’ve got to be energetic. Guys see me flying around there, talking, being energetic, being hungry and wanting to win ... I feel that’s contagious, and guys will do the same thing.”
Guys like Carlton Bragg Jr. and Cheick Diallo, who had five rebounds apiece Saturday while playing 10 minutes apiece.
“When Jamari gets offensive rebounds, that changes everything with second shots,” Bragg said. “I’m following Mari’s footsteps. He’s teaching me along the way. We’ve got to buckle down and get focused. This is where it all starts. We have big games coming up. We have to focus. and we need to get the wins. We’ll do whatever it takes to get ’em.”
LJW Tait: The Day After
No. 14 West Virginia at No. 7 Kansas (Lawrence, Kansas), 7 p.m., ESPN2, Tuesday: The Mountaineers won the first meeting in Morgantown by forcing Kansas into 22 turnovers. The Jayhawks take much better care of the ball at home, where they haven’t lost in their past 36 appearances. Now’s not the time to start.
Prediction: Kansas 70, West Virginia 61.
Rock Chalk Weekly feature on Frank Mason
Aldrich recorded five points (2-3 FG, 1-5 FT), 11 rebounds, two blocks, and one assist in 13 minutes during the Clippers' 100-93 win against the Heat on Sunday.
Aldrich grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds, and helped the Clippers earn a close win. After averaging 7.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 blocks, and 0.4 steals in 14 minutes per game in 14 January games, the big man has clearly earned himself the backup center role behind DeAndre Jordan.
Jayhawk cornerbacks Chris Harris, Jr., and Aqib Talib added another ring to their collections as they helped lead the Denver Broncos to a win in Super Bowl XLIX Sunday evening. Harris and Talib were starters for a Broncos defense that held the Carolina Panthers high-octane offense in check as Denver posted a 24-10 win at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Harris and Talib became the first Jayhawks to earn a Super Bowl title since Justin Hartwig took home a ring from Super Bowl XLIII as a member of the Pittsburg Steelers. Harris and Talib are the first pair of Jayhawks to join forces for a Super Bowl win since Don Davis and Rod Jones helped lead the St. Louis Rams to a win in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Much like their Orange Bowl days in 2007-08, the dynamic Jayhawk duo combined for 10 tackles and played lockdown coverage to aid in a pass rush that sacked Carolina's Cam Newton seven times and forced four turnovers in the win.
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!”
Big 12/College News
Texas at No. 1 Oklahoma (Norman, Oklahoma), 9 p.m., ESPN, Monday: It’s tempting to take Texas and its 4-1 record against AP top 20 opponents this season. But Oklahoma is coming off a loss at Kansas State, and there's no chance the Longhorns catch the Sooners sleeping.
Prediction: Oklahoma 85, Texas 77.
There's no time to rest for Oklahoma.
Just two days after going on the road and losing to unranked Kansas State on Saturday, the at-least-for-now No. 1 Sooners return home to take on perhaps the hottest team in Big 12 basketball.
Oklahoma faces Texas for the first time this season at 8 p.m. Monday at Lloyd Noble Center.
“Texas is playing great,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. “It is exactly what this league's about. We've had some of those stretches that we've survived, and now we've got to bounce back and survive this one.”
If Oklahoma is to win the league, this week figures to be critical as the Sooners play the two teams they're tied with in second place, a game behind West Virginia.
There'll be plenty of time to recover for Saturday's game against Kansas.
…While the fans are nice and Oklahoma will be more comfortable than they were Saturday when a packed Bramlage Coliseum stoked Kansas State's performance, the Sooners are also going to have to play better.
Buddy Hield has cooled off a bit over the past few games, though he's still finding ways to score. Saturday, he couldn't consistently get looks on the perimeter and only started driving aggressively to the basket in the game's last five minutes.
Since point guard Isaiah Cousins has emerged from his shooting skid early in Big 12 play, Jordan Woodard has fallen into a bit of a slump of his own. The Sooners also need starting forward Khadeem Lattin to avoid the foul trouble that has plagued him for three consecutive games.
Big 12 Composite Schedule & Results
Kansas entered the picture last spring, when Ballock — who lives 10 miles from the front door of Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence and grew up a KU fan — received an offer from the Jayhawks.
“It was really hard to tell them no because they’re always one of the top programs in the country with great teams and a great coaching staff,” Ballock told The World-Herald on Sunday night. “But at the end of the day, I was looking for the best situation for me that would let me excel as a player.
It was an eventful Saturday in the state of Kentucky for Billy Preston, one of the top basketball recruits in the class of 2017.
Preston spent his morning in Lexington, checking out UK’s campus and watching the Wildcats practice along with five-star teammate Trevon Duval, the No. 1 point guard in the country.
On Saturday night, Preston led Advanced Prep International (Texas) to a victory over Thon Maker’s Athlete Institute (Ont.) squad at the Thoroughbred Classic in Somerset. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound power forward threw down three dunks in the game’s first three minutes and finished with 22 points and most valuable player honors.
…He said Saturday night that he plans to cut that list down to five or six programs sometime next month, and then concentrate on those select few for the remainder of his high school career.
Recruiting Calendar (updated for 2016)
Late Night in the Phog
Bill Self Camp KU Alumni games
60 Years of AFH Celebration
Legends of the Phog game
2011-12 Final Border War
KC Prep Invitational
and more, now on YouTube