Battered West Virginia limps into visit to No. 14 Kansas
The season can't end soon enough for West Virginia.
From an opening game upset loss at home to Buffalo, to a knee injury that knocked star center Sagaba Konate out after eight games, to the failure of the team to defend up to usual standards, this has been one disastrous season.
And it only got worse Monday night with the news that coach Bob Huggins dismissed senior forward Esa Ahmad and junior guard Wesley Harris for what a school news release termed a "violation of athletic department policies."
Ahmad averaged 12 points and 5.8 rebounds, shooting 46.2 percent from the field, while Harris scored 7.9 points and grabbed 4.5 rebounds. Ahmad recently passed the 1,000-point mark for his career, while Harris was considered the team's best defender.
What remains of the Mountaineers travels to No. 14 Kansas in Lawrence on Saturday for a Big 12 Conference game that might be more accurately termed a mismatch. West Virginia is down to nine scholarship players, seven of whom are playing their first collegiate season.
Winning at Allen Fieldhouse with your best team playing at its peak is downright difficult. Doing it under these conditions seems to be just about impossible. And it's not like the Mountaineers (10-14, 2-9) are coming into this one off a good performance.
They have been idle since a humiliating 75-53 loss Feb. 9 at home against Texas, which led by 27 at the final TV timeout, thanks to a 41-15 spurt that started late in the first half. The Longhorns threw down no less than eight dunks, taking advantage of shabby defense.
"It's embarrassing," Huggins told the Morgantown Dominion Post. "I'm embarrassed. I'm not sure our guys are, but I was embarrassed."
To make matters worse, West Virginia is expected to be without guard James "Beetle" Bolden, who has sat out the last four games with an injury suffered at No. 1 Tennessee Jan. 26. Bolden is averaging 12.2 points and shooting 82 percent at the foul line.
While the Mountaineers try to piece together some kind of lineup, Kansas (19-6, 8-4) aims to keep its 14-year string of Big 12 titles alive with a late-season rally. The Jayhawks presently trail first-place Kansas State by 1 1/2 games, and the Wildcats have a game at hand.
Kansas is coming off a 82-77 overtime win Monday night at TCU, just its second road victory in eight tries this season. The Jayhawks blew a 12-point second half lead, but got six clutch foul shots from Devon Dotson in the final 40 seconds of overtime to hold off the Horned Frogs.
"That was a game in which we played really well for the most part, then we screwed up," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Somehow or another, we were able to pull it back. We were fortunate that it went overtime after we screwed it up, and then we played really well in OT."
Like West Virginia, the Jayhawks have gone really young. With senior guard Lagerald Vick taking a leave of absence, Kansas trotted out a lineup with four freshman starters and junior Dedric Lawson. It was only the second time in Self's 16 seasons that he's started four freshmen.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 14, 2019