LAWRENCE — The Big 12 basketball race just got a lot more interesting.
Kansas obliterated West Virginia 78-53 on Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, the team’s third straight victory and an outcome that moved the No. 14-ranked Jayhawks just a half-game back of first-place Kansas State in the league race. The No. 18-ranked Wildcats fell 78-64 at home to No. 23 Iowa State in a contest played simultaneously.
K-State remains one game up in the loss column with six remaining, while the Jayhawks have five left on their schedule, beginning with a 7 p.m. Feb. 23 tilt at No. 15 Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas. KU is seeking a national record-extending 15th consecutive regular-season league championship.
Devon Dotson and K.J. Lawson each scored 15 points against the Mountaineers to pace a KU attack that featured five double-figure scorers, with Dedric Lawson (14 points), Ochai Agbaji (10) and David McCormack (10) rounding out the balanced effort.
The victory was perhaps a small measure of retribution for what stands as the worst defeat of the season for the Jayhawks (20-6, 9-4 Big 12), a 65-64 loss to the last-place Mountaineers on Jan. 19 in Morgantown, W.Va.
Saturday’s contest might as well have been over from the opening tip for the 14½-point underdog Mountaineers (10-15, 2-10), a group playing without injured standouts Beetle Bolden and Sagaba Konate and one that earlier this week dismissed starters Esa Ahmad and Wesley Harris.
The Jayhawks took firm command on a 21-2 run that gave Bill Self’s group an 18-point lead before 15 minutes had passed. Dotson scored a game-high 11 points in the opening period, pacing a KU attack that shot 56 percent from the floor before the break. WVU, meanwhile, shot 25 percent from the floor and committed 12 turnovers in the first half.
The bloodbath only continued in the second half. A bolting Agbaji turned on a dime under the basket to throw down a twisting 180-degree dunk, and later, the brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson hit back-to-back 3s to balloon the KU advantage to 27 with 12:37 left.
The only intrigue left from there action taking place approximately 85 miles west at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, where first-place K-State entered the day with a 1½ -game lead in the Big 12 over both KU and Texas Tech. The Red Raiders also won Saturday, 86-61 at home over Baylor, to keep pace with the Sunflower State squads.