West Virginia’s formula for winning — going hard to the rim to score, chasing after bad shots and constantly pressuring opponents — has the Mountaineers off to their best start in 34 years.
But coach Bob Huggins wasn’t in a mood to put a historical spin on No. 11 West Virginia’s 74-63 win over top-ranked Kansas on Tuesday night.
He explained it means giving his players a day off from practice on Wednesday before starting preparations for another difficult test, at No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday.
Jaysean Paige scored 26 points, Devin Williams had 17 points and 12 rebounds for West Virginia (15-1, 4-0 Big 12). Williams had his seventh double-double of the season but the first over a span of seven games.
“Just a team effort, man,” Williams said. “Whatever and whoever, as long as we get team effort, there’s no one in the country who can stop us.”
An emphasis on driving the ball to the basket paid off for the Mountaineers, who outscored Kansas 33-13 from the free throw line.
“I thought it gave us the best chance to win,” Huggins said. “I think the way the game’s being called, it’s hard to guard the ball. We tried to kind of revamp some things and keep them spread to try to be able to get guys to the basket.”
West Virginia forced Kansas into a season-high 22 turnovers and held the Jayhawks (14-2, 3-1) to their lowest point total of the season.
“They’re great at what they do,” said Kansas’ Perry Ellis, who scored 21 points. “They were all over the place and we definitely give them credit.”
West Virginia fans stormed the court and sang John Denver’s “Country Roads” after the Mountaineers’ first win over a top-ranked team in 33 years.
The Mountaineers haven’t started a season this well since 1982, when it won 24 of its first 25 games.
With snowy conditions and traffic gridlock outside, Kansas arrived at the WVU Coliseum from their nearby hotel only an hour before the game with the help of a police escort.
It didn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks on the court.
They are the fourth No. 1 to lose this season, joining North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State.
“The game in a nutshell is that they were so much more aggressive and quicker,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They were way more athletic than we were and played above the rim. We didn’t do any of that.”
West Virginia opened a 39-27 halftime lead. Ellis scored 10 of the Jayhawks’ first 15 points of the second half, including a dunk at the midway point to cut the deficit to 50-44. But Kansas went more than 4 minutes between baskets and could get no closer.
West Virginia didn’t need to be stellar from the field — the Mountaineers shot just 33 percent (19 of 57) and made just one field goal over the final 5 minutes. But they made up for that from the line, where they entered the game shooting 66 percent.
West Virginia went 12 of 16 from the line down the stretch. Williams kept hitting free throws and kept grabbing missed shots.
He got plenty of help from Paige, who made 14 of 17 free throws for the game.
Kansas: The Jayhawks dropped their third straight to the Mountaineers in Morgantown. Last year, Ellis caught a long pass and missed a layup off the back of the rim just before the final buzzer, and the Jayhawks lost 62-61. In 2014, Andrew Wiggins returned to the state where he played prep school. The freshman led a furious comeback with 41 points, but the Jayhawks couldn’t make up a 25-point deficit and lost 92-86.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers improved to 4-7 all-time against top-ranked teams. The previous time they did it was against UNLV in February 1983. … Guard Daxter Miles Jr. returned to the starting lineup after missing the first game of his career with an ankle sprain. … West Virginia’s bench outscored Kansas’ 40-10.
UP THE CHARTS
With his 780th career win, Huggins passed Lou Henson for 11th place all-time. Huggins is 780-313 in his 34th season of coaching.
Kansas: Hosts TCU on Saturday.
West Virginia: Is at No. 2 Oklahoma on Saturday.