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West Virginia falls to No. 2 Kansas 61-56

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia coach Bob Huggins couldn't pull in some extra cash during the Mountaineers' first-ever meeting with No. 2 Kansas.

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The Mountaineers clawed back from a 15-point deficit but managed just four field goals over the final 10 minutes and fell to the Jayhawks 61-56 on Monday night.

Huggins could have picked up a $25,000 bonus for a regular-season win over the Jayhawks, something that was included in a contract extension he signed in November.

Earlier Monday on the Big 12 coaches' teleconference, Huggins said he had nothing to do with the possible bonus, instead giving credit to his attorney.

The clause became moot in this game anyway and wasn't a topic of discussion afterward. The Mountaineers shot just 37 percent and Huggins fell to 0-5 all-time against the Jayhawks.

``Kansas is good. It's not like they're one of those teams that plays nobody in the preseason and gets ranked,'' Huggins said. ``I think they've got the best of both worlds really. They've got experience, and they've got youthful enthusiasm.''

Huggins will get another chance on March 2 when West Virginia plays at Kansas.

On Monday night, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey both scored 15 points while Ben McLemore overcame early foul trouble to add 13 points for Kansas (19-1, 7-0 Big 12), which stretched the nation's longest winning streak to 18 games.

The Jayhawks have held their last six opponents under 60 points. They are in the middle of a stretch of six of nine games on the road.

The next test for the winning streak comes at home Saturday against Oklahoma State (13-5, 3-3).

``None of us are paying any attention to it,'' Releford said of the streak, which started on Nov. 15. ``We don't sit around in the locker room and talk about it because we know it's a long season. So we're not too worried about it.''

Kansas shot better from the field (54 percent) than at the free throw line (53 percent). It was the Jayhawks' second-worst showing of the season at the line.

Kansas had 16 turnovers, including three apiece by McLemore, Releford and Elijah Johnson.

``Our guard play has got to get better,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ``Teams that pressure us, we've kind of thrown it around of late. I thought we did some good things but we made some bonehead plays.''

Aaric Murray had 17 points and Juwan Staten added 14 for the Mountaineers (9-11, 2-5), who fell to 0-4 against ranked opponents this season.

Without any players averaging in double-figure scoring for the season, Huggins has jumbled his lineups this season to try to come up with size matchups and points production.

Lately, not much has worked.

West Virginia has lost five of six games. With 11 games left in the regular season, the Mountaineers are in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time under Huggins, their sixth-year coach.

Freshman Eron Harris, who led West Virginia in scoring at nearly 16 points over the last three games, was limited to two points on 0-of-4 shooting against Kansas.

``I just never know what we are going to do,'' Huggins said. ``It seems like when we have made shots, we miss free throws. When offense kind of ran, we didn't guard (Kansas).''

Big 12 newcomer West Virginia never led in the second half. Staten scored three straight baskets, including a jumper that pulled the Mountaineers within 48-46 with 10:19 left.

``West Virginia executed their plays well (in the second half) and we weren't in tune with our scouting report and they got some easy baskets,'' Releford said.

But West Virginia fell silent over the next 3 minutes, while McLemore, Kansas' leading scorer, made up for a sour first half in which he spent most of the time on the bench in foul trouble.

McLemore hit a layup and made two free throws on the next trip down the court during a 7-0 run that put the Jayhawks ahead 55-46 with 7:33 left.

West Virginia never recovered.

Kansas held West Virginia without a field goal over the game's first 7 minutes. Withey, who had a 25-pound weight disadvantage to West Virginia's Deniz Kilicli, scored eight of Kansas' first 14 points and he reached double figures midway through the half.

The Jayhawks twice built a 15-point lead before getting sloppy, and West Virginia trimmed the deficit to 38-30 at halftime.

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

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The Associated Press
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