Kansas-West Virginia Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 27, 2013
Its offense may be slumping, but Kansas has been especially solid on the defensive end lately. The third-ranked Jayhawks will try to put it all together and extend the nation's longest active winning streak Monday night when they visit struggling West Virginia for the programs' first meeting. While several other highly ranked teams have lost recently, Kansas (18-1, 6-0 Big 12) continues to find ways to win while building a one-game lead over Baylor atop the conference. The Jayhawks have won 17 straight overall - their third-longest win streak under coach Bill Self - by an average of 16.8 points since their last defeat to then-No. 21 Michigan State on Nov. 13. They rank near the top of the Big 12 in scoring defense (58.8 points per game) and opponent field goal percentage (34.9), and they've allowed an average of just 51.6 points in their past five games, beating Oklahoma 67-54 on Saturday. Senior 7-footer Jeff Withey has led the effort, ranking among the Division I leaders with 4.3 blocks per game after swatting four against the Sooners. "Defensively, we make some mistakes and he covers the floor behind us," Self said. Kansas should be able to remain solid defensively against the Mountaineers, who rank near the bottom of the Big 12 in scoring (67.2 ppg) and field-goal percentage (39.5). West Virginia (9-10, 2-4), playing its first season in the conference, has lost four of five overall. The Mountaineers are 6-2 at home, but they've dropped two of three league contests in Morgantown. Freshman guard Eron Harris has emerged as the team's top scoring threat, averaging 15.8 points and hitting 11 of 22 from 3-point range in four games since moving into the starting lineup. West Virginia, though, has scored just 63.0 points per game on 38.4 percent shooting in its last three. "We can't make shots," coach Bob Huggins told the school's official athletics website following Saturday's 80-66 loss at Oklahoma State. "It's become painfully obvious." At the same time, Huggins' club has allowed opponents to shoot 21 of 37 (56.8 percent) from 3-point range in the last three games while giving up at least 79 points in both losses in that stretch. The Jayhawks hope to take advantage of those struggles as they look to get back on track offensively. While Kansas leads the conference in shooting 48.0 percent while averaging 74.6 points, it has managed just 62.2 per game while hitting 42.1 percent from the field in its last five contests. Freshman guard Ben McLemore has still been steady in Big 12 play, boosting his season numbers by averaging 17.5 points on 57.6 percent shooting - 14 of 24 from 3-point range. He and Withey combined for 31 points on 11-of-21 shooting against Oklahoma, but the rest of the team totaled 36 points and made 13 of 34 from the floor. "Offensively, we were stale again," Self said. West Virginia will try to pull off another upset after winning four of its last eight against opponents ranked first, second or third. Huggins, though, lost all three of his meetings with Kansas while coaching Kansas State in 2006-07.
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