It wasn’t long ago that the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks lost three consecutive conference games and four of five overall losses in Big 12 play.
Since that rough stretch — one that ended in a 15-point loss to Iowa State on Feb. 4 in Ames, Iowa — KU has reeled off a five-game hitting streak in men’s basketball heading into Saturday’s game against West Virginia.
Tipoff for the game between the Jayhawks (23-5, 11-4) and Mountaineers (16-12, 5-10) is at 3 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse with a live broadcast on ESPN.
“That three-game losing streak taught us a lot about ourselves,” KU senior guard Kevin McCullar said at a press conference previewing the KU-WVU game Thursday.
“We learned from it. We kept calm. The coach (Bill Self) told us we have to be the hardest playing team every time we go out there – (that) we can’t come out apathetic,” added McCullar. This is somewhat what we have done and we are sticking to it.
The 6-foot-6, 210-pound McCullar — is second in the Big 12 in steals (2.2 per game) and third in the league in rebounds (7.4 rebounds) to go with his 10.9 point average — he said it’s important to continue this formula of winning the Jayhawks’ last two home games and their final road game of the season.
KU, which tied for No. 1 in the Big 12 with Texas with three games to play, will also host Texas Tech (8 p.m., Tuesday), then head to Texas for the regular season finale a week starting Saturday ( 3:00 p.m., Austin, TX).
“Feeding our audience and our energy here is going to be huge for us. Playing at home, I know it’s going to be great,” McCullar said of Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins’ game against the Mountaineers on Saturday.
For KU, playing with energy means playing face-to-face defense — the defense exhibited in the second half of last Saturday’s 87-71 home win over Baylor. KU, who was burned by 45 points in the first half, outscored BU 55-26 in the final half. KU two days later at TCU held the Horned Frogs to 30.3% shooting (5-of-18 threes) in a 63-58 win in Fort Worth, Texas.
“It must be our identity. We know anyone can have a great offensive game at any time. We know defensively as a collective unit we have to accept,” McCullar said. “We want to stop at the end of the game to be able to secure some of these close wins on the road and at home. bass and of course with Juan (Harris), Bobby (Pettiford) and Joe (Yesufu), they can heat the ball up at any moment, which is huge for us.
The Mountaineers defeated Oklahoma State 85-67 on Monday in Morgantown, West Virginia, snapping a three-game losing streak. West Virginia fell to KU 76-62 January 7 at the WVU Coliseum.
“They have a great group of guys. They have some sharpshooters and guys that they can guard and, of course, some big downs that will rebound the ball,” McCullar said.
WVU senior guard Erik Stevenson was held to 12 points on 4-of-19 shooting (0-of-5-of-three) in that first fight. Senior guard Joe Toussaint had eight points on 2-of-10 shooting with five assists and two turnovers.
Forwards Tre Mitchell (6-9 senior) and Emmitt Matthews (6-7 senior) had 15 and 11 points, respectively. KU, led by Jalen Wilson’s 14 points and 14 rebounds, outscored West Virginia 43-35. All five KU starters scored in double figures.
KU hit 17 of 19 free throws to WVU’s 18 of 28.
“Anytime you play West Virginia, it’s going to be a physical game,” McCullar said. “It will probably be physical here too.”
Self noted that Kedrian Johnson, a 6-3 senior guard who averaged 10.6 points per game and made 22-of-72 threes (30.1%) did not play in the KU-WVU game in Morgantown.
“It makes a difference as far as (an) athletic point of view and a defensive point of view,” Self said. “He can mow down the ball like anyone else in our league. This would be a huge game for them (in an effort to trap an NCAA bid), as it will be a huge game for us (in an effort to stay on top of the league). I think it’s going to be a pretty exciting Saturday.”