In winning 11 of its first 12 games, it’s easy to forget how incredibly inexperienced West Virginia is.
Saturday afternoon in Allen Fieldhouse provided a stark reminder.
The Mountaineers fell to 0-8 all-time in “The Phog” with their 60-53 loss to Kansas in the Big 12 opener for both teams. WVU (11-2, 0-1 Big 12) dominated play for most of the first half, leading by as many as 10 twice and taking a six-point lead into halftime. Kansas (11-2, 1-0) struggled offensively, both from the field and from the foul line. It looked as if this would be the day the Mountaineers would conquer their Allen Fieldhouse demons.
It was not.
The Jayhawks found their offensive footing the second half as the Mountaineers lost theirs. The Jayhawks weren’t panicked by the deficit, nor with their first-half inability to deal with the dominant play of WVU freshman Oscar Tshiewbe.
That’s the benefit of having an experienced team with players who have a history of playing in big games. Kansas has it. West Virginia does not.
Tshiewbe was a one-man wrecking crew for the Mountaineers, finishing with game highs in points (17) and rebounds (17). His first-half play compensated for the absence of sophomore forward Derek Culver, who missed much of the half with two fouls. Tshiewbe was the best player on the floor in the first half – by a lot.
But in the second half, Kansas adjusted. It held Tshiewbe to just two second-half points. The Jayhawks big man, Udoka Azubuike, by contrast, was quiet in the first half but outplayed Tshiewbe in the second. Azubuike finished with team highs in points (17) and rebounds (11).
Azubuike is a senior. It showed.
As Kansas was righting its offensive ship, West Virginia’s was steadily taking on water. The Mountaineers struggled with turnovers and poor shooting the entire second half. WVU hit just 32.2 percent from the field and 3-for-14 from 3-point range. The Mountaineers were just 12-for-22 from the foul line and had 16 turnovers. West Virginia’s offense was severely disjointed for most of the second stanza.
Kansas, meanwhile, got sharper as the game wore on. The Jayhawks had 11 turnovers in the first half but only three in the second. Kansas got better in every aspect of the game the closer the final buzzer approached. West Virginia got worse.
That’s the result of an experienced team playing at home and an inexperienced team playing a very good team in one of the hardest visiting venues in the country.
It would have been a huge boost to finally break the curse of “The Phog.” But this is not a crippling loss as long as the Mountaineers don’t allow it to be. They have 18 regular-season games left to play, 17 of them in the Big 12. If coach Bob Huggins can use this as a teaching moment for his young squad, they will get better from it.
Experience is an excellent teacher. Unfortunately, sometimes it comes in painful lessons.