MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Kansas has stretched the nation’s longest winning streak to 18 games with a mix of blowouts, nail-biters and, lately, strength-sapping defense.
The second-ranked Jayhawks turned up the pressure after nearly relinquishing a 15-point lead, then watched West Virginia wilt down the stretch in a 61-56 victory Monday night.
In the first-ever meeting between the schools, the Jayhawks held West Virginia to four field goals over the final 10 minutes.
“The second half we just kind of pieced it together,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Our defense needed to be good because we didn’t score, either. I thought defensively we did a pretty good job.”
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).
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,” 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.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins could have picked up a $25,000 bonus for a regular-season win over Kansas, something that was included in a contract extension signed in November.
But the Mountaineers shot just 37 percent and Huggins fell to 0-5 all-time against the Jayhawks.
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.
No. 12 LOUISVILLE 64, PITTSBURGH 61
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng combined for 34 points and sealed the game with four free throws in the final 12 seconds as Louisville ended a three-game losing streak.
Louisville, which has slumped since moving to No. 1 two weeks ago, saw an 11-point second-half lead cut to 60-58 on Tray Woodall’s 3-pointer with 13.3 seconds remaining.
Dieng made two free throws with 12.7 seconds left for a four-point lead. After an air ball by Pitt, Smith followed with two more free throws for a 64-58 lead with 4.2 seconds left.
Woodall, who had 14 points, drained a long 3-pointer in the final second.
Smith finished with 20 points while Dieng had 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks for the Cardinals (17-4, 5-3 Big East).
Pittsburgh (17-5, 5-4) had its four-game winning streak stopped.
No. 25 MARQUETTE 63, SOUTH FLORIDA 50
MILWAUKEE — Vander Blue scored a career-high 30 points to lead Marquette, which moved into a first-place tie with Syracuse in the Big East.
Blue, who came into the game as the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer at 13.9 points per game, made 13 of 20 shots from the field and scored 11 points during the big run that spanned both halves.
The Golden Eagles (15-4, 6-1 Big East), who have won eight of nine games, returned to the Top 25 on Monday after being out of the rankings last week.
JaVontae Hawkins scored 14 points for South Florida (10-10, 1-7), which opened the season 9-3.
The Golden Eagles used a 21-4 run sandwiched around halftime to open a 38-24 lead on Blue’s driving baseline layup with 15:18 left. Marquette ended the first half on an 11-4 run and scored the first 10 points of the second half. The Bulls couldn’t get closer than eight points the rest of the way.