KANSAS CITY, Mo. — West Virginia’s Cinderella run in the Big 12 tournament hit midnight Friday, courtesy of the kings of the hill.
Kansas, winner of the previous 14 Big 12 regular-season titles before this season, let the Mountaineers have a little fun in the beginning, but the Jayhawks soon flexed their muscles before halftime for an 88-74 victory.
“We got off to a good start and was trading buckets with them,” West Virginia Chase Harler said. “Then we just dug ourselves into a hole we couldn’t get out of.”
Kansas forward Dedric Lawson had 24 points and freshman teammate Quentin Grimes added 18 before leaving the game with cramps late in the second half and the Jayhawks’ suffocating help defense led to seven blocked shots and held a tired West Virginia team to just 36.8 percent shooting in the second half.
Third-seeded Kansas (25-8) advances to today’s championship game, where they will meet No. 5 seed Iowa State, at 6 p.m. The Cyclones beat top-seeded Kansas State in the first semifinal game Friday, 63-59.
The loss ends a memorable journey at the Sprint Center for the Mountaineers, who came into the tournament with just four Big 12 wins and then picked up half of that in two crazy nights of upsets.
In doing so, West Virginia (14-20) first survived a replay review against Oklahoma that changed a potential tying 3-point bucket into a two that was the difference in a 72-71 win.
The Mountaineers then held on to beat second-seeded Texas Tech 79-74, a team that had whipped them by 31 points on Feb. 4. That set up their fourth consecutive trip to the Big 12 semifinals — the first for a No. 10 seed since the league shrank to 10 teams in 2011.
A trip to the finals was not in the making, though, as West Virginia’s tank — which was already running on fumes after playing in the first two games — simply ran out of fuel.
Shots began coming up short late in the first half, as Kansas went on a 16-4 run that erased a 36-32 deficit and turned it into a 48-40 halftime lead.
The run was punctuated by Grimes 3-pointer at the buzzer, which came from a few steps behind the arc.
“We didn’t come out with the same intensity as we did in the first two games,” said West Virginia guard Jordan McCabe, who finished with seven points. “I let [Devon] Dotson get to the rim two or three times early and that kind of set the tone for us.
“We worked too damn hard to use a cop-out and say fatigue. This team could have won three, four or five games in a row and won a championship if we just came out with the same intensity.”
The deficit only grew in the second half. Early baskets from Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Derek Culver kept WVU within six, but three straight buckets from the 6-foot-9 Lawson — one of them a three — stretched the Jayhawks’ advantage out to 62-46, signaling that the Mountaineers had run out of magic.
“Certainly West Virginia played better than we did the first 15 minutes,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Then we got hot and Quentin carried us in the first half and we were pretty efficient in the second half.”
Kansas’ lead grew to as large as 23 points in the second half.
Culver led the Mountaineers with 14 points and 11 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season.
Lamont West had 16 for the Mountaineers.
“Everybody was ready for this game, but we just didn’t execute,” WVU guard Jermaine Haley said. “I honestly think that just because we got on a little bit of a roll that we started to take them lightly. We shouldn’t have done that.”
The next time West Virginia takes the court will be in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational, which a WVU school official said would begin Wednesday, at the WVU Coliseum.
The Mountaineers are expected to host up to three home games in the tournament, the official said, providing the team continues to advance.
The second-round game would be the following week, either March 25, 26 or 27.