The Kansas Jayhawks are kings of the Big 12 once again after the No. 1 team in the nation defeated the No. 9 West Virginia Mountaineers, 81-71, Saturday night in the Big 12 men's basketball tournament title game.
Devonte' Graham led the Jayhawks with 27 points, and Wayne Selden Jr. had 21 as Kansas widened its gap as the most elite program in the conference, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Kansas now has 10 Big 12 Tournament titles - the same number as the rest of the conference combined. pic.twitter.com/7buauQYUOT— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 13, 2016
After a rough first half, Perry Ellis scored 17 points for the Jayhawks, who shot 52.1 percent as a team and fended off a tough Baylor squad the night before in the semifinals.
CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein commented on the Jayhawks' victory, saying head coach Bill Self has more than enough firepower to get to the Final Four:
Bill Self has led Kansas to 14 consecutive wins in the Big 12. Guy is the elite of the elite. Jayhawks have all the goods to get to Houston.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 13, 2016
It was a sloppy start for both teams in Kansas City, Missouri, as West Virginia and Kansas combined for 10 turnovers in the first seven minutes, and the Jayhawks went four minutes and 28 seconds without a basket to start the game.
But the Mountaineers were active on the boards early, grabbing four offensive rebounds in the first 10 minutes.
West Virginia took a 10-5 lead after a Jevon Carter layup, but it wouldn't be long before Kansas started to slow the game to its pace and pick apart the West Virginia defense, mostly thanks to Graham.
Selden was fine in the first half, going 4-of-6 from the floor for nine points. With Ellis scoring only seven points and turning the ball over three times in the first half, Graham provided the scoring punch Kansas needed. He made two threes and had two steals to keep his team in the game, and the Jayhawks trailed by only one at halftime.
When the teams came out of the locker room, Graham picked up where he left off. He knocked down the first shot of the second half, a three-pointer, to give Kansas a 36-34 lead. That long-range attempt triggered an 18-5 run for the Jayhawks, which included two more threes by Graham, as the Jayhawks took a 51-39 lead with 14:49 remaining.
While Kansas took care of matters on the offensive end, the No. 1 team in the country also shut down West Virginia in the second half. The Mountaineers missed 11 of their first 15 shots of the half, while Kansas went 9-of-15 and made four threes.
Kansas was able to cool down Devin Williams after he had made his first seven shots of the game, as he only went 2-of-5 in the final 20 minutes despite finishing with a game-high 31 points.
ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf chimed in with his thoughts about Williams:
Devin Williams is a grown man.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 13, 2016
But the Mountaineers didn't go away. Thanks to its full-court defense, which took away Kansas' passing lanes, West Virginia cut the deficit to 67-63 with 4:09 remaining.
A three-point play by Landen Lucas and a three-pointer by Selden, however, spiked a short 6-2 run that pushed the Kansas lead to 73-65 with less than three minutes remaining, which led to another NCAA tournament berth for the Jayhawks.
Kansas Basketball shared this video of the celebration that took place at center court:
Had Buddy Hield's half-court heave counted, West Virginia would not have gotten this opportunity. But in battling back after a lethargic beginning to the second half to make it a one-possession game, West Virginia showed its resiliency. Now it'll likely get a chance to show that in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas heads into the NCAA tournament with, possibly, the No. 1 overall seed. The Jayhawks came into postseason play as the No. 1 team in the country, and this run in the Big 12 tournament showed why. Led by Ellis, Selden and Graham, the Jayhawks have a Big Three that can propel them to Houston.
Graham noted Kansas can't let the talk outside of the locker room dictate its belief in itself, per Kansas Basketball:
"We can't make other people believe in it. But in this locker room we believe in what we're doing." - Graham pic.twitter.com/eQyjbuPllv— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) March 13, 2016
Self also praised Graham for his maturity and ability to come up big in a game of this magnitude.
"I mean, he's playing well, but his mindset and attitude, he's one of those guys that actually looks forward to getting up and going to class and just being a kid," Self said, per the Big 12. "I mean, it's not one of these things, oh, we got to do this again. It's one of these things, we get to do this again. And his attitude is just a 10, and I think it's rubbed off on others."
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said he thinks his team has done more than enough to warrant a spot in the NCAA tournament, and that comes from the Mountaineers' balanced attack.
"I feel pretty safe we're going to go to the tournament," Huggins said, per the Big 12. "You know, we had all year. If Jevon Carter didn't make shots, Daxter Miles did. And when those two didn't make shots, Jaysean Paige did. But nobody made them today."