WEST VIRGINIA GAME NOTES
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Good friends Bob Huggins and Frank Martin will be reunited Thursday night when West Virginia travels to Wichita, Kan., to face Kansas State at INTRUST Bank Arena.
It’s the first time mentor and pupil have hooked up on the hardwood since Huggins left Kansas State for West Virginia in 2007 and Huggins’ No. 1 assistant Frank Martin was promoted to head coach. The two obviously have strong feelings for each other.
“He is definitely a big part of my personal success,” said Martin. “He has a lot to do with my success at the collegiate level. When I was unemployed for six months after Northeastern, he went to war to help me stay in the business. When he was in desperate need of somebody that he could trust at Cincinnati, he decided to hire me. When it was time to make the decision to come to K-State, he would not come unless I did. Those are the kind of things that I never forgot.”
Martin said it was an excruciating experience for Huggins in the spring of 2007 when his alma mater called.
“It was awful,” said Martin. “His wife and him loved it here. I have said this before, but I was with him when someone called and offered him $2 million and he hung up on them. About two hours later, someone offered him $2.5 million and he hung up on them. He was not leaving (Kansas State) for another job. He could have tripled his salary. Little did he know that days later he would be faced with such a challenge.
“There was only one school that would be appealing to him and that was West Virginia,” said Martin. “It’s home for him. He was beat up, but he knew that he would have to make that decision.”
On Thursday night, Huggins will rekindle many of the friendships he made during his one-year stay in Kansas. However, the coach says this will be different than his return to Cincinnati in 2009.
“I don’t think it’s anything like that,” Huggins said. “Going back to Cincinnati was going back to Shoemaker Center; going back to the city of Cincinnati. This is in Wichita. It’s 130 miles from Manhattan. It’s not playing in Bramlage (Coliseum).”
Huggins recalled his first game against the Bearcats in 2008. West Virginia made just 10 field goals and scored only 39 points in a blowout loss in Morgantown.
“The first time we played Cincinnati here we set the school record for ineptness,” he joked. “I hope that’s not the case.”
Thursday’s game against a good K-State team is vitally important to a young West Virginia squad still trying to develop some consistency. The Mountaineers lost 75-62 at Mississippi State last Saturday night and bring a 4-2 record into the contest.
“It’s a game against a team that’s going to be an NCAA tournament team,” Huggins explained. “It’s national television; we’re playing in a new arena that’s going to host an NCAA tournament game. It’s got what you want.”
Huggins is impressed with what he’s seen so far from the 5-0 Wildcats, particularly their last two victories against George Washington and Virginia Tech. Against the Hokies, Kansas State overcame a 28-22 halftime deficit to beat Tech 69-61 in Blacksburg. Six-seven senior forward Jamar Samuels made 7 of 8 from the floor to finish with 17 points, while also adding 14 rebounds to earn Big 12 player of the week honors.
Kansas State has four players averaging double figures led by Samuels’ 13 points per game. Guard Will Spradling, forward Thomas Gibson and guard Rodney McGruder are each averaging right around 12 points per game.
“I think they’re a great second half team,” said Huggins. “They are out-scoring their opponents by an average of 17 points (in the second half). Against Virginia Tech, they shot 27 percent in the first half and they shot 58 percent in the second half. A lot of it was keyed by their defense and the way they rebounded the ball. They were terrific on the offensive glass in the second half.”
Huggins is also impressed with Kansas State’s ability to take things away from its opponents, defensively.
“You watch all of their games and nobody runs offense,” he said. “They’re like we were for the last four years to where we could take them out of what they want to run and they end up having to ball screen and they end up having to try and spread you and spread you and play one on one.”
Huggins was disappointed with the way his team finished last Saturday’s game at Mississippi State. The game was tied at 52 with eight minutes left before the Bulldogs went on a 23-10 run to end the game.
“The discouraging part of it is our experienced guys didn’t do what they were supposed to do and you can’t blame that on freshmen,” he said. “You can’t blame going 11 of 29 (second half shooting) on the freshmen. Those guys have to be much more consistent for us.”
Senior forward Kevin Jones had 14 points and nine rebounds against Mississippi State and leads the Mountaineers with averages of 19.8 points and 11.7 rebound per game. Junior Deniz Kilicli played well against the Bulldogs (14 points and seven rebounds) and is averaging 11.2 points and 6.5 boards per contest. Those two have been West Virginia’s most consistent players. Huggins has gotten up and down performances from the rest of his roster.
There have been several occasions this year when Huggins has had as many as four freshmen in the game at the same time and Martin can certainly empathize with his counterpart.
“They have got a team full of young pups, but they have got three guys that have played in the Final Four,” he said. “That is a team that I don’t want to play at the end of the year. Come March and April, I do not want to play those guys because all those young kids are going to be a lot more consistent.”
In order to be in a position to be playing that late in the season, West Virginia must find a way to win games like Thursday night’s, something Huggins says he tells his team all of the time.
“Some guys say you shouldn’t talk about (the NCAA tournament) and you shouldn’t put pressure on them. The reality is I don’t want them ever coming to me and saying I wish I would have known,” Huggins explained. “If I would have known, maybe I would have prepared a little harder or I would have played a little harder. I don’t want that to be on me.”
Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. ESPN2 will televise the game nationally.