As the saying goes, defense travels in college basketball.
Playing the first of four sure-to-be challenging road contests spread across its final eight regular-season games, Kansas more than confirmed that old adage Wednesday.
"When the other team can’t score, you’re not going to lose very often," KU coach Bill Self said in a postgame radio interview, "and certainly that played out to be true tonight."
The No. 3-ranked Jayhawks toughed out a 58-49 victory over No. 14 West Virginia at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va., suppressing the Mountaineers to a 1-for-13 shooting performance to close out a contest that saw the visitors trailing by six with less than nine minutes remaining. Devon Dotson (knee), who hadn’t practiced since Saturday, finished with a team-high 15 points and Isaiah Moss added 13 to pace KU.
"It was a great win," Self said. "It’s probably about as good a road win as we’ve had since I’ve been here to be honest with you, not because we played great but because we grinded."
With the victory, KU stayed one game back of top-ranked Baylor in the chase for a Big 12 regular season championship. The Jayhawks still have road dates left with the Bears (11 a.m. Feb. 22), rival Kansas State (12:30 p.m. Feb. 29) and No. 24 Texas Tech (1 p.m. March 7).
KU (21-3, 10-1 Big 12) trailed by six Wednesday at the end of a foul-plagued first half for the Jayhawk bigs.
Senior center and Big 12 preseason player of the year Udoka Azubuike played just 10 minutes in the opening frame, scoring two points on 1-for-3 shooting with three rebounds. Sophomore forward David McCormack, KU's only other active frontcourt player, picked up three first-half fouls.
The Jayhawks played with a five-guard look for the final 2:27 of an opening period that ended with them trailing 30-24.
"Not to get anything out of Doke the first half, and then get physically whipped, but to only be down six?" Self said. "(Assistant coach) Norm (Roberts), who did the scout, did a great job just telling the guys, ‘It’s a long game. They’ll let you hang around and you’ve got to take advantage of it when you hang around.’ "
WVU (18-6, 6-5) re-established that six-point lead, 46-40, on a Derek Culver hook shot with 9:05 left to play, but that’s when the Jayhawks dialed up the intensity on both ends of the floor.
Moss drilled a wide-open 3 on a Dotson drive-and-dish to cut the deficit to three. Then, after Dotson forced a turnover by throwing a loose ball off the leg of a WVU player and out of bounds, Azubuike dunked for just his second field goal make of the evening. After a basket by WVU’s Gabe Osabuohien, Azubuike added a layup for his third make.
That bucket kick-started a 13-1 run to finish the game for the Jayhawks.
Marcus Garrett notched his fourth steal of the game, which led to two makes at the stripe for Moss and a 49-48 lead for the visitors with 5:22 left. Jermaine Haley made 1 of 2 tries at the line to tie the game at 49, but that proved to be the Mountaineers’ last point — Moss gave KU the lead for good with a corner 3 at the 4:52 mark, then hit two more free throws after his own steal. Dotson went 4 of 4 at the line in the final two minutes to ice the outcome.
"I thought the second half we played well," Self said. "I thought we shot good shots, I thought we got the ball in transition. We just didn’t make any of ’em. But then Isaiah got on a roll and made a couple of huge ones, and Dot made a big one from out top. Of course, we didn’t make free throws great (14 for 21), but we made enough down the stretch."
WVU, which committed six turnovers in the game's final six minutes, was paced by Oscar Tshiebwe's 14-point, nine-rebound outing. The Mountaineers were 19 for 60 from the floor and 4 for 17 from beyond the arc, with 11 of their 19 turnovers coming in the second half.
KU, meanwhile, finished with 21 points off those 19 turnovers. The Jayhawks had 13 steals in the contest, with Garrett recording five takeaways to help offset his six-turnover evening. Azubuike, who played all 20 minutes in the second half, finished the game with 6 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
KU was 4 of 14 from 3-point range, the eighth time in the last 12 games that Self’s team has finished with four or fewer 3s.
"I’m leaving out of here, there’s no negatives," Self said. "We can talk about what we didn’t do. We should talk about what we did do tonight, and that was guard."
The Jayhawks improved to 6-0 on the road in Big 12 play. Allen Fieldhouse will play host to the team’s next contest, an 11 a.m. Saturday tipoff against Oklahoma.
"Gotta hold serve at home," Self said. "We can’t bank on anybody else helping us. All we can do is control what we can, and that would be playing well against OU."