KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bill Self’s words proved prophetic.
Three days ago, as his No. 9-ranked Kansas basketball team entered the Big 12 Tournament without 7-foot center Udoka Azubuike (sprained MCL), the Jayhawk coach said this about what might be in store for KU at this event.
“We may,” Self said, “find a diamond in the rough this weekend.”
Spoiler alert: They did.
Freshman forward Silvio De Sousa, who was playing high school basketball just three months ago and looked lost at times a month ago, scored 16 points on 6-for-6 shooting and hauled in 10 rebounds as the top-seeded Jayhawks downed West Virginia, 81-70, in the Big 12 Tournament championship game.
Malik Newman scored 20 points and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, Devonte’ Graham scored 18 points and dished out 13 assists, but De Sousa — incredibly — was the story.
KU (27-7) entered the half down one but finished the chippy period with an exclamation point.
The Mountaineers (24-10) took a five-point lead, 29-24, on a Jevon Carter 3-pointer that capped a 13-3 run for WVU. But De Sousa, playing in relief of Azubuike and foul-plagued sophomore forward Mitch Lightfoot, had a coming out party of sorts in the opening period, responding to that run with a layup and a put-back to pull KU within one.
Newman, who scored 30 and 22 points in the Jayhawks’ first two tournament games, respectively, hit a 3-pointer, Carter answered with his own, and with time winding down in the half, De Sousa flushed a mammoth fastbreak dunk on a Graham lob to make the score 34-33 in favor of WVU.
As the Mountaineers missed a half-court heave at the buzzer, De Sousa and WVU sophomore forward Sagabe Konate got tangled in front of the KU bench. De Sousa, who finished the period with 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting and seven rebounds in only 13 minutes, ripped himself away from the confrontation.
WVU’s Daxter Miles, who scored 22 points in his team’s semifinal victory over Texas Tech, scored 11 points on five straight makes in the first five minutes of the second half to give the Mountaineers a 51-43 advantage.
The Jayhawks, though, responded with a breakneck 10-0 run, capped with back-to-back 3-pointers by Graham, to retake the lead at 53-31. The team traded blows until KU reeled off its second 10-0 run of the period, a stretch highlighted on another Graham-to-De Sousa lob dunk and capped with Newman’s fifth 3-pointer that made it 66-63 in favor of KU with 7:01 left.
The red-hot Miles answered with his fifth 3 to lock the game at 66-all, but it proved to be the last gasp for the Mountaineers. De Sousa — who else? — responded with a layup, and Graham hit a long jumper and a 3-pointer that gave the Jayhawks a seven-point edge with 3:49 to play. Graham let out a roar as he ran back on defense, WVU coach Bob Huggins called timeout, and the depleted Jayhawks were well on their way to the gutsy victory. Newman made sure of it with a sixth and final 3-pointer — he finished 6 of 8 from deep — and, with KU up seven, a steal and a pair of free-throw makes with 51.2 seconds left to ice the victory for the underdog Jayhawks.