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Sensory overload at the Coliseum

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - After West Virginia's 92-86 upset victory over No. 8 Kansas on Saturday, one almost felt like the guy with the kids in the AT&T commercial.

You know, the one where the little girl asks about "infinity times infinity" and the man pretends like his head explodes.

The game was truly mind blowing.

To start, it was a Senior Night played in the day with no seniors. It was a game with possibly the nation's best freshman, Andrew Wiggins, who played prep ball in Huntington, yet was playing for Kansas. And when the game started it dripped with Jayhawk athleticism. Yet WVU won.

The Mountaineers are now almost assured of at least an NIT berth. (One NIT bracketologist - I kid you not, there are such people - had West Virginia with a No. 4 seed before the game.)

But back to this day, this game, this amazing spectacle. And let's start with the kid wearing the spectacles.

All knew Kansas star center Joel Embiid would not play, which would give WVU a better chance at victory. Who, though, expected Mountaineer big man Devin Williams to make more hay off it than a Midwestern farmer?

"I didn't see that coming," said WVU guard Eron Harris, who finished with 28 points. "But I told Dev the whole season we needed him to play like he played today. He finally gave it to us.

"It's better late than never. I said, 'Dev, that's what we've been waiting on.' I hope he does that for the remainder of the season. If he does, we're going to go far."

All Williams did was connect on 8 of 10 shots and 6 of 7 free throws for 22 points. He added 13 rebounds (six on offense). Heck, he even had a steal and an assist. At game's end, folks were tweeting #RepecttheSpecs.

"Williams was by far the best big man in the game," said KU coach Bill Self.

"He rebounded the ball; he played good defense; he finished inside; he shot the ball well from outside; he made good passes and decisions," said WVU point guard Juwan Staten. "He just played a real good game."

"I picked my spots," Williams said. "I stayed patient. My first thought was to hit the boards more than score. Then it started rolling. I got a rebound and then a shot came. Then I got another rebound. Then I made a good pass, a good outlet. It all came together and I just picked my spots. They were all rhythm shots."

It put $25,000 into the pocket of WVU coach Bob Huggins, who earned the bonus through a line in his contract.

"Devin played really well," Huggins said. "He scored through contact and made open shots, which he does in practice. He's good at shooting those and he's also our one guy who can really go into a crowd and rebound."

Early, everything was going Williams' way. A ball thrown back inbounds bounced and went to him. A block of Harris ended in his hands.

Oh yeah, and Embiid, possibly the next NBA top draft pick, wasn't around. That's a pretty nice break.

"God works in mysterious ways," Williams said. "There was nothing I could do. When we came [to practice] we all were preparing for [Embiid]. I was watching film to see what I did when I played better against him: the moves, guarding him. I was ready for the challenge whether he was there or not. But they still have six or seven All-Americans."

Which brings us to the second mind-blowing part of the day: the performance of one of those "All-Americans," Wiggins.

In all the years I've covered WVU, the Kansas team that visited the Coliseum might be the most athletic I've seen in the facility. And I've certainly not seen a better freshman than Wiggins.

"We knew the team," Staten said. "We knew the personnel of the team. We knew he'd be the guy taking the majority of the shots. We tried to prepare for him driving and helping when he drove. But he switched it up. He stepped out and made outside shots. That's something we really hadn't seen him do a lot of this year."

The Huntington Prep product flew high and threw down hard, finishing with 41 points on 12-of-18 shooting and added five steals, four blocked shots, two assists and eight rebounds. He almost single-handedly willed his team back from a 25-point deficit.

"He's talented," Williams said. "I got a chance to play against him a couple times in camps. He's just talented. You can see the work he's put in. When you put the work in, that's what you get. I've got a lot of respect for him."

All of the 14,038 in attendance Saturday have to feel the same today. They had to wonder if Wiggins was setting a record, although Notre Dame's Austin Carr once scored 47 in the arena. Wiggins was absolutely spectacular. What has to be encouraging for Huggins is Williams felt comfortable being on the same stage as the Jayhawk.

"I have good respect for him, but ...," Williams said. "I was in high school seeing all these players get all this publicity and I always felt I'm right there with those guys. This was the time to show it."

Last, there was another mind-blowing day from Staten, who finished with 24 points, nine assists and just four turnovers in 39 minutes of play.

This week I voted on the All-Big 12 team and placed the point guard on my first team. It was a no-brainer. Huggins said after the game he'd voted Staten as a first-team All-America selection and called him the "best point guard in America." Just before, Self called Staten "the best true point guard in the league."   

On Saturday, Staten added another memorable move to his highlight reel. He started into the paint from the right side, backed out, then quickly reversed field and went back it, drawing oohs from the crowd - and a foul from the Jayhawks.

The question after the game, then, had to be asked. Might that have been Staten's last showing at the Coliseum? Could he bolt after this season for the NBA draft?

"I mean, yeah," Staten said. "Definitely. That's the goal. That would be everybody's goal, if you asked them. That's definitely my goal and that's definitely what I expect to explore after the season, to just get feedback. Right now, that's right where I'm at. I just want to put my name in, get some feedback, see what type of feedback I get and go from there."

It makes sense. Staten has improved like few others over the span of one year.

When all the feedback is in, do I believe Staten goes? No. He's vastly improved and is one of the nation's best college players, yet still needs to improve his shooting range. He needs to be able to shoot NBA treys. Another year with Huggins will help him. And another year with Staten will help Huggins.

Consider Staten with big men Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, in addition to Williams. Consider all with Harris and Terry Henderson and Nathan Adrian.

This Mountaineer team - sans Holton and Macon - won 17 regular-season games. It put together a second-half-of-the-season run before faltering. It beat some ranked teams.

And on Saturday, it did so in mind-blowing fashion.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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