West Virginia had to find a way to score against Kansas State so they started moving and shaking.
Going against a defense that excels at making teams shoot the ball over top of them by packing it in, head coach Bob Huggins elected to go to some things in order to get the Wildcats moving and chasing.
That opened up the paint after the Mountaineers settled for perimeter shots in the first half creating just enough on the offensive end.
“We sometimes get three-point happy and wanted to make sure one we could one get some shots close and two get to the foul line,” Huggins said.
West Virginia already had experience against a similar defense this season as Huggins compared what the Wildcats do to Virginia to a degree with ten eyes on you at all time. The Mountaineers had a play card of around 75-sets on it but couldn’t figure out which one would work, Huggins referenced.
So while it wasn’t the plan to start the game, as things settled in that’s the direction it took with West Virginia attempting to get the Wildcats to chase them in order to free up the lane.
And it worked. The Mountaineers won the battle in the paint 40-18 and were able to get to the foul line in the second half to hold off every attempt at a run from Kansas State. After attempting just a single shot from the charity stripe in the first half, that number increased to 15 in the second frame.
“We just had to get them moving and get out of the lane,” Huggins said.
But perhaps more importantly walked away with an unblemished mark to open Big 12 Conference play for the fourth time in five years. The program is 9-1 in back-to-back road games to open league play since West Virginia started doing it following the first year in the league.
Finding ways to win has been the formula for this West Virginia club on its 13-game winning streak and this one was no different on the road in Manhattan. The West Virginia pressure wasn’t as effective, but the Mountaineers played well in the half court on the defensive end.
Huggins hasn’t hidden the fact that his team hasn’t been as good in the press, forcing only 15 turnovers against Kansas State and turning that into 17-points. Still, it is an advantage in theory because of the stress and strain that it puts on clubs that aren’t used to seeing it.
“We’re used to it and people aren’t used to it. The theory is they miss some shots late because you take their legs a little bit but I don’t know if that’s true,” Huggins said.
However, the Mountaineers have improved drastically in transition defense after the opener allowing only five points to Kansas State on the fast-break while using waves of pressure. Huggins attributes that to the play of sophomores Sagaba Konate and Maciej Bender protecting the rim and changing shots.
“Those guys anchor it for us,” he said.
Now the Mountaineers will come home and prepare for an Oklahoma team that features one of the top players in the nation in point guard Trae Young. No easy task, but expect Huggins and his club to be ready. By now it’s proven that’s what they do.