Wildcats, Huggins meet again

By Joel Jellison

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Last season Kansas State met West Virginia in a key matchup in Wichita.

It was Frank Martin vs. Bob Huggins — coach against mentor, former coach against current coach — and it was the Mountaineers getting an early taste of the Big 12 Conference.

How things can change in a year.

More than a year removed from West Virginia’s 85-80 win in double overtime, the 18th-ranked Wildcats have a different coach in Bruce Weber, and the Mountaineers have struggled to find themselves in their first Big 12 season.

On Saturday, the Wildcats will travel to Morgantown, W. Va., for their first league road game.

After the Wildcats’ win over Oklahoma State last Saturday at home, it’s safe to say K-State (12-2, 1-0) is riding pretty high.

“Our confidence level is high,” K-State senior guard Rodney McGruder said. “We’ve been watching a lot of Big 12 play and we know the things that we’re capable of and we know that we just have to go out and compete for 40 minutes.”

For the guys who played for Martin, playing against Huggins will surely bring back some old memories.

Junior guard Will Spradling said they will be facing the same defense that they’ve tried to run the past few years, with guys like McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving having three years under their belts. For that reason, Spradling said they’ve been telling coaches what they know about beating that defense.

“We know it will be a physical game — that’s the way we like to play anyway,” Spradling said. “It’s the same defense that we’ve run the past couple years, so we know how to attack it.”

Weber said it’s hard to know just how West Virginia will come at them on Saturday, both offensively and defensively. Because the Mountaineers (8-6, 1-1) have struggled this season, Huggins has changed what his team does from game to game.

Weber said he expects to see a typical Huggins team — hard-nosed, tough and aggressive.

The Mountaineers are shooting just 39 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from behind the arc, leading Huggins to make a number of changes to the sets they run. It seemed to work on Wednesday when the Mountaineers defeated Texas 57-53 in overtime.

Weber said he expects the Mountaineers — led by 6-foot-10 center Aaric Murray’s 10.6 points per game — to attack the inside.

“They’re going to make some shots, a lot of their stuff is in the paint, and if you’ve seen Huggins’ teams in the past, it’s a lot of dribble-drive, get in the lane, high-low stuff with their bigs, so we have to do a good job of protecting the paint,” he said. “He’s actually changed his offense like three times this year trying to figure something out.

“They could do motion, passing, cutting, screening. They could do high-low, dribble-drive — he’s kind of searching for answers.”

McGruder said he considers this year’s game a chance for the Wildcats to get a game back from West Virginia.

“We lost to those guys last year and I’m excited to play them again,” he said. “It’s a revenge game, I’d say.”

McGruder will be looking to put on an encore performance against West Virginia, after scoring a season-high 28 points against Oklahoma State. He scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half, while Nino Williams chipped in a career-high 17 points.

Since then, the Wildcats have had a week of practice to build on their Big 12-opening win over the Cowboys. It was a period Weber said was full of positives and negatives.

Until the end of the week, he said the team wasn’t at its best.

“I would not say they were the most stellar practices ever,” he said. “I think they need more game rhythm. I don’t mind the bye, it would have been nice to have it week seven or eight. It is what it is.”

Although the Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country at the moment, quickly rising in the polls after their wins over Florida and Oklahoma State, Weber said it’s important that the team doesn’t overlook anyone.

And it’s just as important that the team doesn’t get too high on itself.

“It’s great, but if you get fat and sassy, it’s going to end very quickly and you guys will be saying Sunday morning, ‘What’s wrong with them?’” he said. “For me, the key is consistency.”

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