Cream rises to the top.
On Saturday night inside the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks stepped upon their throne and looked over the rest of the Big 12. It was Kansas’ least talented team in quite some time, but they not only prevailed in the regular season, they sent a friendly reminder to the rest of the conference that everyone else is still just a little behind.
“It was obviously a fabulous college basketball game,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said after his team’s 81-70 win over West Virginia, and Big 12 Tournament Championship. “Really proud of our team. It’s been kind of an up and down week for us, obviously for a couple of reasons. But I thought the guys competed as well as they’ve competed all year long and played with as much freedom as they have all year long, too.”
The Jayhawks were without star sophomore Udoka Azubuike for the entirety of the tournament. Self survived his absence until the Big 12 tournament championship game, when old-school big Sagaba Konate of West Virginia made his presence felt early and often.
The Mountaineers had control of the game in the first half despite Kansas continuing to make runs and keeping it close. Konate and his teammates eared a 22-16 rebounding edge at half, and continued to feed the West Virginia big men at any opportunity they had.
In the second half, however, a new Kansas’ star was born.
Freshman Silvio De Sousa–who is three months removed from high school–made life difficult for Konate and the rest of West Virginia. He was doing all the dirty work on the boards, including boxing out Konate and the rest of the Mountaineers. After coming back into the game with 8:41 left and a small lead, De Sousa finished an alley-oop, forced a turnover, and then finished another layup on the other end. For a player that should be playing for a high school state championship, De Sousa looked like the next big-time big man under Bill Self.
“It’s huge. We knew we wouldn’t have Udoka and Mitch and him would have to step up and he’s coming into it and finding a rhythm and finding it at the right time. Everybody is happy for him, because he’s been struggling,” Senior Devonte’ Graham said. “It’s hard to come in in the middle of the season straight out of high school and get all this stuff thrown at you, all the plays, how fast we play. It’s not like high school. So he did a great job of just sticking with it, coming into practice every day, learning the plays and it’s finally paying off.”
Down the stretch, West Virginia made one final push. The game was tied at 66 with 6:40 to go, and then the consensus Big 12 Player of the Year scored or assisted on the next 11 points, sending West Virginia home with their third straight Big 12 Tournament runner-up finish.
“Maybe,” Graham said if it was the best half of basketball he’s ever played. “Once they went on a run in the the second half Coach called a timeout and we got locked back in and started making plays and just competing. It was just fun. Fun to be out there.”
“They got control of the game in the first half and we made a run, and they got control of it in the second half and we made a run,” Self said. “That was the difference. When they had a chance to probably distance themselves we made a lot of great plays to get right back in it and we played about flawless for the most part down the stretch.”
Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter ended their Big 12 careers with 25 and 17 points respectively and 10 combined assists.
Malik Newman was Kansas’ leading scorer again with 20 points on six 3s (6-of-11 overall) and two free throws, and finished as the Big 12 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Devonte’ Graham added 18 points and 13 assists, including being the reason behind those 11 straight points to give his team the win.
The Kings of the Big 12 answered the call of social media and media members saying their time was done. That their streak was over and that this team could not accomplish what Self’s teams in the past have done. They not only proved them wrong in the regular season, but let the rest of the conference and country know that everyone is still playing catch-up with their Big 12 Tournament Championship.
The NCAA Tournament selection show will take place at 5:00 p.m. CST on TBS this Sunday.