It could not have been easy for the Kansas Jayhawks to have their focus fully on basketball on Thursday, not after hearing that their head coach, Bill Self, had had to be admitted to the hospital and would not coach in at least the first game of the Big 12 Basketball Championship tournament.
But under the guidance of interim coach Norm Roberts, the Jayhawks put together 40 strong minutes of basketball and pulled away from a stubborn West Virginia team in the second half to advance on to the tournament semifinals.
Jalen Wilson‘s 22 points led four Jayhawks in double-figures as #3 Kansas, the top seed in the Big 12 Basketball Championship tournament, defeated eighth-seeded West Virginia 78-61 at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.
Wilson finished the night with a double-double, adding 11 boards to his game-high scoring total. He said after the game that he and his teammates rallied around their stricken head coach.
“With (Self) not being here, it just makes you come together and play as a team even more,” Wilson said. “It was another moment to prove how tight this group is. We’re a team, we’re a family.”
“We just had to come together through it all,” added Gradey Dick, who finished with 18 points. “Coach Self would obviously want us to do that.”
After the game, Kansas announced that Self would not return to the bench for the rest of the team’s Big 12 tournament run, confirming that he had undergone an emergency medical procedure at the University of Kansas Medical Center and that it was not, contrary to speculation, a heart attack. “I’m excited to get back with my team in the very near future,” said Self as part of a short statement.
UPDATE on Bill Self just in from Kansas: pic.twitter.com/I7DWs4wbqw
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) March 9, 2023
“(Self) always preaches getting the job done and focusing on what you can control,” said Roberts, who previously filled in on an interim basis for the first four games of this season while Self was serving a suspension. “What we could control was getting focused and playing the way we needed to play to win the game.”
After a slow start for both teams, the Jayhawks were first to flip a switch, going on an 18-2 run after falling behind by three early. Wilson and DaJuan Harris combined for nineteen of KU’s first half points, and the regular season league champs led by as many as thirteen before taking a 31-23 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, West Virginia would get as close as four points at 46-42, but KU kept them at arm’s length. A 7-0 run capped off by a KJ Adams alley-oop slam off a Harris pass from half-court gave the Jayhawks their largest lead of the game at 62-48 with 6:43 to play. West Virginia would get no closer than nine points the rest of the night as the Jayhawks eased to their third win over the Mountaineers in as many tries this season.
dunks on dunks today 💪 pic.twitter.com/rTaCuFheWp
— Kansas Men’s Basketball (@KUHoops) March 9, 2023
“All these games are win or go home now,” Wilson said. “Teams are amped up. It’s important for us to understand what wins, and that’s playing good defense and playing team ball.”
Harris and Adams each had 13 points for KU, with Harris adding eight assists and five steals. Erik Stevenson led the way for WVU in the loss with 13 points.
Kansas will take on fifth-seed Iowa State in the tournament semifinals tomorrow night after the Cyclones upset fourth-seed Baylor 78-72 in the first game of the day. Tip-off in Kansas City is scheduled for 6:03.