|Juwan Staten scored the game-winning shot for West Virginia on Tuesday night against Baylor
|Baylor Athletic Media Relations photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Kansas State is looking to enhance its postseason résumé while West Virginia is looking to build one - two pretty good reasons to check out these two teams on Saturday afternoon when the Mountaineers play host to the Wildcats at the WVU Coliseum.
West Virginia (12-9, 4-4) is in a better place now following last Tuesday night’s 66-64 victory over Baylor that got the Mountaineers’ record back to .500 in Big 12 play.
WVU didn’t shoot the ball particularly well against the Bears (40 percent) and got clobbered on the boards (minus-10), but it still found a way to come up with a road win, which in itself is something to build on.
“We got murdered on the glass in the first half and did a better job in the second half,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “When you don’t score for 4 ½ minutes and you’re still able to win, you’re doing something right.”
Actually, three of West Virginia’s four victories in conference play have come on the road, so the Mountaineers are seemingly due for a big win in Morgantown at some point, hopefully on Saturday.
“We’re close,” said Huggins. “I know I keep saying that, but we’re close. We’re a couple of stops, a couple of key rebounds or making a basket or two away from maybe having another five or six wins. But as close as you think you are you’re really also that far away because the reality is you’ve got to do it. And we’ve got to step up.”
The Kansas State team West Virginia is facing Saturday is virtually unbeatable in Manhattan (11-1 at Bramlage Coliseum), but is not quite as infallible away from there. K-State is 1-3 in Big 12 road games so far this season, the lone victory coming at TCU (winless in Big 12 play) back on Jan. 7.
The Wildcats followed up the TCU win with a 26-point loss at Kansas, a three-point defeat at Texas and a six-point loss at Iowa State six days ago. Most recently, Kansas State got back on the winning track with a 10-point victory at home against Texas Tech three nights ago.
“Obviously, we were not that good with that stretch against Kansas,” said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. “I thought the game against Texas, we were right there, and at Iowa State we played good enough to win. Now we have to see if we can do those same things and play with that same energy, play together, and play a little smarter and a little better.”
“I thought they played great at Texas,” added Huggins. “I thought they played pretty good at Iowa State, too. That’s a hard place to play.”
Earlier this year, Kansas State (15-6, 5-3) had little trouble disposing of West Virginia in Manhattan, the Wildcats clobbering the Mountaineers 78-56 on Jan. 18. It was easily the worst performance of the season for WVU, which managed to shoot a season-low 32.7 percent from the floor while scoring just 56 points.
“We shot it too quickly,” said Huggins. “We got behind and we were going to catch up all at once, which is kind of what young guys do. We didn’t have much patience.”
Most of West Virginia’s offense that afternoon came from two players – Eron Harris
and Juwan Staten
(37 points) – while K-State got most of its production from Thomas Gibson and Shane Southwell (40 points on a combined 15-of-21 shooting).
“Post play is about space and angles and (Gibson) has probably got the best understanding of how to use space and how to use angles as anybody in our league - and he plays with a great base,” noted Huggins. “The thing we try to get through to the younger guys we have is it’s not how tall you are, it’s how big you are and big being a big base. He’s got the best base certainly in our league, and probably one of the better bases in the country.”
Kansas State, though dropping out of the AP poll earlier this week, joins Kansas as the only two schools in the country with four wins over Top 35 RPI teams so far this season (No. 15 Oklahoma State, No. 19 Oklahoma, No. 26 Gonzaga and No. 34 George Washington). And the Wildcats are doing it with a suffocating defense that ranks ninth in 3-point field goal percentage (23.3 percent) and 19th in points allowed (61.1 ppg.).
But there are shots to be had against K-State because of the way the Wildcats play, says Huggins.
“When you help that much, with ball reversal you’re going to get a pretty good shot,” he explained. “That’s anybody, that’s not just them. When you get off and support as much as they support, ball reversal is going to hurt.”
K-State has held 13 of its last 20 opponents to a season low in points, including 11 of them to fewer than 60 points. Twelve opponents have been held below 40 percent shooting, and 15 have shot under 30 percent from 3-point range.
“They’re really physical,” said Huggins. “They are the most physical team in our league and they gang-guard you. They do a great job of gang-guarding you.”
The Wildcats aren’t very big (no starter standing taller than 6-feet-7) but they are a scrappy group that plays well together. They also spread around their scoring with nine different players reaching double digits in points at least once this year.
Kansas State has also enjoyed considerable success against West Virginia, sweeping both games last year, including a one-point decision at the Coliseum on Jan. 12, 2013.
Since joining the Big 12, West Virginia’s best offensive output against them came last year in Morgantown when it scored 64 points, while shooting 51.1 percent from the floor. Kansas State is 4-1 all-time against WVU with the Mountaineers’ lone victory coming in Wichita, Kan., on Dec. 8, 2011 when they were still members of the Big East Conference.
K-State is expected to counter with a starting five comprised of Wesley Iwundu (7.0 ppg.), Thomas Gipson (11.8 ppg.), Shane Southwell (11.3 ppg.), Will Spradling (7.7 ppg.) and Marcus Foster (13.4 ppg.).
Tip off is officially set for 1:47 p.m. and the game will be televised throughout a good portion of the country on the Big 12 Network.