Two hot teams will square off Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va., as Kansas State travels to face No. 10 West Virginia.
That sounds strange, considering the fact that Kansas State is 7-18, including a 3-13 record in the Big 12. But the Wildcats are coming off back-to-back wins after snapping a 13-game losing streak. The latest victory came against No. 7 Oklahoma on Tuesday night.
Senior Mike McGuirl led the Wildcats with 19 points, including three straight 3-pointers in the final three minutes to turn a six-point deficit into a three-point lead the Wildcats would not relinquish.
“You work your way in your career to get opportunities to play top-level teams,” head coach Bruce Weber said of McGuirl after the game. “You play Kansas here in the Sunflower Showdown, and he didn’t play very well and he knew it. Now to come back in back-to-back games and be a big difference maker. I couldn’t be more happy for him and proud of him.”
Considering how poorly the Wildcats played during the losing streak, their improvement during their two-game winning streak is encouraging, if not too late.
“When we got back from Oklahoma State, I said, ‘It’s winding down guys. Value each day. Value each opportunity,'” Weber said. “I don’t want this season to end, because I know we’ve improved. I know it hasn’t been with wins, but we’ve gotten better as a team.”
The Wildcats are led by Nijel Pack with 12.1 points per game, and McGuirl with 11.8. DaJuan Gordon (9.3) is playing well since returning from a foot injury four games ago.
West Virginia (16-6, 9-4) has been playing well all season. The Mountaineers won their sixth straight road game Tuesday against TCU. But head coach Bob Huggins is rarely satisfied.
“I thought we played in spurts,” he said after the game. “We’ve got to … not take our foot off those people’s throats, let them up and then try to get started again. But I thought we had stretches when we played really well.”
West Virginia now sits in second place in the Big 12, percentage points ahead of Kansas. With three makeup games next week — all in Morgantown — the Mountaineers have a chance for a really strong finish to the season.
“I think we’re all happy to go home,” Huggins said. “It’s just good to be able to get home and sleep in your own bed.”
It won’t be any more comfortable than the Mountaineers felt when these two teams played the first time, a 69-47 victory in Manhattan. Coming off a 14-day stretch of no games, WVU forced 28 K-State turnovers. The Mountaineers jumped out to a 21-4 lead and never were threatened.
As is typical with a Huggins-coached team, the Mountaineers have nine players averaging in double figures in minutes. They are led in scoring by Miles McBride with 16.1 points per game, followed by Derek Culver (15.1), Taz Sherman (13.2) and Sean McNeil (11.5).
–Field Level Media