KANSAS CITY - And then there were four. If you had TCU, Iowa State, Kansas State and West Virginia in this year’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship semifinals, congratulations, because you are a winner.
I heard wacky Bill Walton say on TV late last night during the broadcast of the Pac-12 Tournament game between UCLA-USC that the Bruins are clearly a better team with Lonzo Ball on the floor.
Well, that must also apply to Josh Jackson and Kansas.
The top-ranked Jayhawks, minus their freshman lottery pick who was serving a one-game suspension, were ambushed by eighth-seeded TCU, 85-82. Desmond Bane (the guy whose last-second shot to beat WVU in Fort Worth last month sailed wide left) was fouled by Svi Mykailiuk while attempting to shoot a game-winning 3 from the corner.
Bane stepped up and made all three free throws with 2.5 seconds left and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham was unable to get a game-tying 3 to go down to leave the predominantly Jayhawk-blue-clad 18,972 inside the Sprint Center sitting in stunned silence.
Now, all of those tickets Kansas fans have been hoarding through the years watching KU win tournament after tournament will likely be sold at cut-rate prices to the Iowa State and Kansas State fans this afternoon.
Playing easily the most entertaining game of the day, the fourth-seeded Cyclones outlasted streaking Oklahoma State, 92-83, in an up-and-down, back-and-forth affair.
Star Iowa State guard Monte Morris scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Deonte Burton nearly matched Morris’ contribution with 17 points and 10 boards himself.
Sixth-seeded Kansas State, which probably needed a victory over ninth-ranked Baylor to get on the right side of Joey Brackets’ NCAA Tournament bubble, came through, handing the Bears a 70-64 defeat.
What kept Baylor from pulling off another second-half comeback victory was K-State’s free throw shooting. The Wildcats converted 16 in the second half to give embattled coach Bruce Weber enough distance to remain one step ahead of his critics.
Barry Brown was the man for K-State in this one by scoring 21 points - nine of those coming from the free throw line.
So that brings us to second-seeded West Virginia, which played like a team that knew it was going to beat the worst team in the Big 12 this year for a third straight time.
After playing to a draw for the first 16 ½ minutes of the game, the Mountaineers used a 10-1 run to build a nine-point halftime advantage over the scatter-shooting Texas Longhorns.
In the second half, when Texas finally strung together a couple of baskets to make it a two-possession game, West Virginia’s crafty senior forward Nathan Adrian
In a span of 12 seconds, Adrian fed Mountaineer big man Elijah Macon
for bank-shot basket along the baseline and then made a steal along the sideline and quickly got the ball to hot-shooting Jevon Carter
at the top of the key where he banged in another 3.
A six-point lead became 11 in a snap of a finger, and from there it was only a matter of going to the bullpen to close this one out. Texas didn’t make a field goal the remaining 5:34 while West Virginia’s shooting drought lasted the final 4:20.
That is probably the reason why the transcription of West Virginia’s postgame press conference didn’t fill out a single page.
Veteran Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins was asked two questions before the moderator let Huggs return to the arena and catch some of the Kansas State-Baylor game.
Here is the recap.
Q: “Are your guys motivated (to win a Big 12 Tournament championship), getting to the final last year and not finishing it off?”
Huggins: “Are they what?”
Huggins: “I don’t know, man. You ask me to know what they’re thinking. I wish I knew. We obviously didn’t play very well today - didn’t shoot it very well from the free throw line; didn’t make layups.
"They’ve been a good group to coach because they do want to win. You think about the way we play. We had three guys play 30 minutes, which I didn’t really want to do, or over 30 minutes, but we play a lot of people.”
“You know, I think sometimes guys want to play the whole game and they take about two-thirds of the game off when they try to play the whole game. These guys have been really good about sharing playing time. Elijah (Macon) has been great, Brandon Watkins
has been great with (freshman forward Sagaba Konate
) trying to teach him, and obviously he makes a difference for us.”
That was all anyone needed to ask Huggins about the Texas game, and probably all Huggins wanted to answer about it, too.
Now, it’s off to the semifinals.
Of the four teams remaining, West Virginia is the only one ranked in the top 15, and the only one in line to secure a high seed for the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa State likely believes the Big 12 Tournament is now theirs for the taking with the biggest fan following left in Kansas City. With the pressure of securing an NCAA Tournament bid out of the way, Kansas State has to like its chances, too, with a good contingent here in Kansas City that will likely include some reinforcements heading in from Manhattan.
TCU has to feel pretty good about its chances as well.
The Horned Frogs still have a lot work to do to get on the right side of the bubble (probably winning the conference tournament considering they have 12 losses in league play this year), but beating the Big 12’s top dog in front of its home folks certainly gives them momentum heading into this evening’s game against Iowa State.
The color distribution inside the Sprint Center favoring Maroon over Purple is likely to be 99-1 against TCU tonight though.
And then there is West Virginia, which last won a conference tournament in 2010 when the Mountaineers were members of the Big East.
WVU’s pathway to the title that year?
Eleventh-seeded Cincinnati in the quarterfinals, which the Mountaineers won in ugly fashion, 54-51. Then it was No. 7-seeded Notre Dame in the semifinals after the Irish upset second-seeded Pitt in the quarterfinals, followed by No. 8-seeded Georgetown in the finals.
All of the games were tight, and all of them were low-scoring, grind-it-out affairs just like last night’s Texas game.
Will that will be the route West Virginia is going to take to get another one?
Guard Jevon Carter
, easily the Mountaineers’ best player for the last month and a half who poured in a game-high 21 points against Texas, perhaps said it best.
“You can’t play the next game unless you win the current game - just focus on this game and whatever happens after that is going to happen.”
Tipoff for West Virginia’s semifinal game against Kansas State is expected to be sometime around 9:30 p.m. EST following the conclusion of the Iowa State-TCU game.
Both games will be televised nationally on ESPN2.