MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Kansas made its first visit to West Virginia a winning one, but it was hardly the easy victory it Jayhawks may have expected.
The second-ranked Jayhawks opened a 15-point, first-half lead, saw the Mountaineers cut the gap to two points, then gathered themselves through the final 10 minutes for a 61-56 victory.
Kansas (19-1, 7-0 Big 12) earned its 18th consecutive win.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins would not accept the idea that taking Kansas to the wire made it a positive night for his team.
"I don't know how it's a good game when you lose," he said. "I'm not big on losing."
Jeff Withey and Travis Releford led Kansas with 15 points each.
Center Aaric Murray came off the bench to contribute 17 points and seven rebounds for West Virginia (9-11, 2-5). He hit three 3-point shots.
The game was played in a festive atmosphere, with the students going at full blast from the start.
The trouble was that the West Virginia team did not follow suit. It took 7 minutes and 24 seconds before the Mountaineers hit their first basket, that by Deniz Kilicli. Kansas was dominating the boards and the tempo, building a 29-14 lead with six minutes left in the half.
However, Huggins continued moving players in and out, trying to find some combination that would slow the Jayhawks. Eventually, Murray asserted himself and changed the flow.
With 4:30 remaining in the half, Murray stepped in front of a crosscourt pass and stole it, broke free ahead of everyone and hit a thunderous dunk that cut the Kansas lead to 30-20, bringing a roar from the crowd. The noise only increased when guard Gary Browne made another steal, drove on Withey, a 7-footer, and fed Murray, who not only hit the layup by drew a foul. The three-point play made it 30-23.
That was as close as West Virginia would get before the break, the half ending with Kansas in front 38-30. However, the Mountaineers had established that they could play with the Jayhawks, Murray offsetting Withey's 13 points with nine of his own.
When the second half opened, Huggins was giving off body language that said he felt his team had a chance to pull off the upset. When Murray began the half with a couple of 3-pointers and Dominique Rutledge added two huge rebounds and a block of a potential dunk, West Virginia drew to within two points.
It stayed close as the game moved into the final 10 minutes, but Kansas' defensive play made a difference.
"Our guard play has to get better," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Teams that pressure us and get after us will get us to turn it over of late."
Kansas finished the game with 16 turnovers that West Virginia turned into 18 points.
"Our defense needed to be good because we didn't score, either. We made some bad plays," Self said.
At the very end, though, Withey stepped up and asserted himself.
"Jeff wasn't the susual shot-blocker tonight until the last possession, where he came away with two big blocks," Self said.
The biggest difference in the game was that Kansas shot 34 free throws to 15 for West Virginia. While Huggins would not be critical of the officials, he did note that a week earlier "we had made more free throws than our opponents had taken."
He left it there for anyone to read into that what they want.
NOTES: For the second consecutive game, West Virginia was without Matt Humphrey, one of the team's better shooters. He re-injured a shoulder that had undergone surgery. ... The two teams had never met before Monday night. ... Huggins is tied with Don Haskins for 19th place in all-time victories with 719. He ranks third among active coaches behind Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim. ... Kansas was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the coaches' poll on Monday, the first time the Jayhawks reached No. 1 since February 2011. Michigan is No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. ... Kansas is off to a 19-1 start or better for the third time in the past four years ... The Jayhawks have gone 263 games without consecutive losses.