MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Splash some cold water on your face, grab your energy drink of choice and get ready for some more rough and tough Big 12 basketball because the 18th-rated Kansas State Wildcats are headed to Morgantown.
Those may not be the exact words Bob Huggins used to his team after their 7 a.m. arrival Thursday morning following a 57-53 overtime victory at Texas, but you get the idea nonetheless.
Roughly 48 hours after getting off a bus from Pittsburgh (West Virginia’s chartered flight back to Bridgeport was diverted because of poor weather), Huggins’ Mountaineer basketball team will be playing Kansas State at the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon.
Huggins was asked Friday afternoon how his team has responded to its all-night journey back from Deep in the Heart of Texas.
“How would you feel if you got back at seven in the morning? I think we’re probably going to have to go through a year of it to figure out what the best way to do it is,” Huggins said. “What is hard is the 9 o’clock starts. That’s hard. And then playing overtime doesn’t help. And changing the flight plan doesn’t help.
“We were supposed to get back at 5 - we were supposed to get back early,” he joked.
All things considered, Huggins said he had no complaints with the way his team practiced on Thursday afternoon.
“They were good. We didn’t go as hard as we normally go, but they were good,” he said.
Of course coming off a hard-fought victory on the road certainly helps. West Virginia once again struggled to make shots against the Longhorns, going 19 of 62 from the floor (30.6 percent) including a scattershot 3 of 20 from 3, but the team played with a lot of energy, battled for loose balls and made the hustle plays that were lacking in some other games this year.
For Huggins, whose teams have always been known for their hustle, grit and effort, West Virginia’s performance on Wednesday night in that regard was refreshing.
“We played with a lot more resolve,” Huggins said. “That’s the most important thing. We won the game on the glass and we defended so much better.”
West Virginia is going to need another strong effort on the glass Saturday afternoon against a K-State team that is currently second in the country in offensive rebounding with an average of 16.4 per game. Kansas State coach Bruce Weber doesn’t start a big lineup (three guards and two forwards standing 6-6 and 6-7), but he has a pair of 6-10 guys that he brings off the bench and also 6-foot-8, 250-pounder in freshman D.J. Johnson who is averaging about 13 minutes per game.
The Wildcats are currently plus-nine on the glass heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Mountaineers.
“We’ve got to keep them off the offensive glass,” Huggins noted. “We can’t let them rebound it.”
Despite a new coach and a new system, Kansas State is still pretty much the same team West Virginia was able to outlast, 85-80, in Wichita, Kan.
All five starters this year played in that game, including senior guard Rodney McGruder, who leads the Wildcats in scoring with an average of 14.7 points per game. He is coming off a 28-point performance in K-State’s 73-67 victory over Oklahoma State last Saturday in Manhattan (Kansas State has been idle all week).
“(McGruder is) shooting the ball a lot better – shooting it with better range consistently,” said Huggins. “He shot it well before, but he’s a lot more consistent.”
Guard Will Spradling (16 points) and 6-foot-7, 270-pound forward Thomas Gipson (15 points and 10 rebounds) also played well against West Virginia last year. Spradling is averaging 8.9 points, 3.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game while Gipson shows averages of 7.9 points and 6.6 boards per outing.
Point guard Angel Rodriguez is averaging 9.5 points and 4.6 assists per game, while 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Nino Williams gives Weber reliable production off the bench with averages of 7.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest.
Kansas State broke into the top 25 following its 67-61 triumph over eighth-ranked Florida on Dec. 22 and brings a five-game winning streak into the Coliseum on Saturday.
As for this year’s Kansas State team compared to last year’s, Huggins says there are some differences.
“Defensively they are still a man-to-man team, but offensively they are a lot different,” said Huggins. “At the end of the day everybody kind of runs some of the same stuff, though.”
Youths (18 and under) and senior citizens can buy a $10 ticket at the Coliseum ticket window on game day and tickets are still available (http://www.wvugame.com).