AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Devin Williams has such broad, burly shoulders that the bruising forward was just about able to carry West Virginia all the way to the Big 12 Tournament championship Saturday night.
If only he had gotten the slightest bit of help.
Unable to knock down shots and struggling from the foul line, the ninth-ranked Mountaineers finally succumbed to the depth and talent of top-ranked Kansas. Williams had a career-best 31 points and 10 rebounds, but it was not enough in an 81-71 loss to the Jayhawks.
“I wanted it so bad for my guys, for us,” Williams said. “I was just trying to do whatever it took.”
He had to do most of it alone. Jevon Carter was held to four points after scoring 26 in a semifinal win over No. 6 Oklahoma, and leading scorer Jaysean Paige managed six points while committing four turnovers.
“We just didn’t make shots,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “There wasn’t one guy we could run things for or get away. … For the majority of the year we had somebody make some.”
There was no shortage of guys making shots for Kansas.
Devonte Graham matched a career-high with 27 points, Wayne Selden Jr. added 21 and Perry Ellis finished with 17 as the Jayhawks (30-4) likely locked up the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“I felt like we played well,” said Graham, the game net hanging around his neck. “We just have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing. Play better. Keep the confidence we have. Keep this momentum going.”
With supporters and protesters of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump trading barbs just down the street, two teams intimately familiar with each other spent the first 20 minutes trading baskets.
Trading turnovers, too. They combined for 24 of those in the first half.
Williams was the difference-maker, scoring 18 points on 7-for-7 shooting. That helped the Mountaineers (26-8) cover a 0-for-7 performance from beyond the arc and forge a 33-32 halftime advantage.
It’d didn’t stay that way for long.
With his infectious aura and devil-may-care attitude, Graham began to take over for the Jayhawks in the second half. He knocked down a 3-pointer immediately out of the locker room, then curled in two more in quick succession to give Kansas a 51-39 lead with just under 15 minutes to go.
West Virginia’s vaunted press, so effective early in the game, had been reduced to shreds.
“I felt like we had an advantage because we’d seen them so many times,” Selden said.
Attrition and foul trouble also began to play a role. Williams appeared gassed in the closing minutes, and Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. had to play with four fouls apiece down the stretch.
The remarkable depth of the Jayhawks became apparent as coach Bill Self kept sending wave after wave of long, talented players onto the floor. And no matter what combination he used, Kansas never seemed to get too far out of rhythm, holding the Mountaineers at bay in the closing minutes.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Jayhawks celebrated in a businesslike manner — as if they had known all along the outcome was inevitable. They shook hands with West Virginia, gathered together in front of the bench and patiently awaited their coronation as the league’s best one more time.
“We came here to win a championship and we fell short of that,” Paige said, “but we still had a great season, and still have a lot ahead of us. Get back to work and get ready for the NCAA Tournament.”
Graham was voted the tournament’s MVP. He was joined on the team by Ellis and Williams, while Iowa State forward Georges Niang and Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield rounded out the five-man squad.
West Virginia: Williams was 9 of 12 from the field and 13 of 15 from the foul line. … The Mountaineers finished 2 of 15 from beyond the arc. … West Virginia did not block a shot in the game.
Kansas: Frank Mason III appeared to hurt his hip, though he never left the game. The starting guard had four points and seven assists. … Kansas has won 30 games in six of the past eight seasons.
West Virginia heads home for Selection Sunday.
Kansas awaits a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
WEST VIRGINIA (26-8) – Carter 2-7 0-1 4, Miles Jr. 3-7 0-0 7, Adrian 3-5 0-0 6, Ahmad 3-4 0-0 6, Williams 9-12 13-15 31, Holton 0-3 0-0 0, Paige 3-7 0-0 6, Phillip 1-7 2-6 5, Macon 2-5 2-2 6. Totals 26-57 17-24 71.
KANSAS (30-4) – Mason III 2-8 0-2 4, Selden Jr. 8-13 2-2 21, Graham 6-10 10-10 27, Lucas 2-2 2-2 6, Ellis 5-11 7-7 17, Mykhailiuk 0-1 0-0 0, Greene 1-1 0-0 3, Bragg Jr. 1-2 0-0 2, Traylor 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 25-48 22-25 81.
Halftime_West Virginia 34-33. 3-Point Goals_West Virginia 2-15 (Phillip 1-3, Miles Jr. 1-4, Holton 0-1, Paige 0-1, Adrian 0-2, Carter 0-4), Kansas 9-15 (Graham 5-6, Selden Jr. 3-5, Greene 1-1, Mykhailiuk 0-1, Ellis 0-1, Mason III 0-1). Fouled Out_Lucas, Miles Jr., Williams. Rebounds_West Virginia 32 (Williams 10), Kansas 27 (Lucas 7). Assists_West Virginia 15 (Carter 4), Kansas 14 (Mason III 7). Total Fouls_West Virginia 24, Kansas 23. A_19,046.