Senior guard Rodney McGruder is Kansas State's leading scorer at 14.7 points per game.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- That West Virginia began its Friday practice with players taking hard charges, diving for errant basketballs and running the court -- all in the same drill -- should not be taken as unusual.After winning their first Big 12 game Wednesday night in overtime at Texas by doing exactly those kinds of things, the Mountaineers have perhaps found the one thing that gives them the best chance for success from here on out -- grittiness and hustle.How well that will work when WVU returns to the court today, of course, remains to be seen. The Mountaineers (8-6, 1-1 Big 12) host No. 18 Kansas State (12-2, 1-0) in a 1:30 p.m. game at the Coliseum, but the Wildcats are a different breed than Texas. Kansas State thrives on using a deep rotation of players and a knack for playing hard and getting rebounds, so the Wildcats might be able to match the Mountaineers hustle play for hustle play.Still, it's the way things are going to be for the Mountaineers, who finally got the results they were looking for from all that effort in a 57-53 win at Texas and aren't about to change course now."You get out of the game and think, 'I'm done,' and that's a great feeling,'' WVU senior Deniz Kilicli said of the philosophy of not leaving anything on the floor. "And everybody did that [at Texas]. Everybody that was on the floor did that and everybody wanted to win."That's all it is, how much you want it. It's a cliche, but that's what it is.''That was certainly the case at Texas. For example, the Mountaineers used 10 players and, with almost no exceptions, everyone contributed hustle plays. No one had big numbers -- Aaric Murray led in scoring with just 12 points -- and for the longest time the game was as ugly as it could be, but scrappiness was the difference.That's what Bob Huggins has been preaching all along.
"If you play hard and try to do the right thing,'' said forward Kevin Noreen, "that's all Coach asks of you.''Noreen, of course, did just that at Texas, grabbing 13 rebounds and scoring just one field goal. But that one made shot was a 3-pointer with just over three minutes to play that ignited a rally by a Mountaineer team that was down 10 points at the time."We played with a little more resolve,'' Huggins said. "I think that's the most important thing.''Will it be enough today against Kansas State? That could be problematic.
How deep are the Wildcats? Well, they have no less than 11 players who average at least 11 minutes per game, and no one plays more than about 30. Only two -- leading scorer and preseason All-Big 12 senior guard Rodney McGruder and junior shooting guard Will Spradling -- play much more than half of each game, so everyone is pretty well rested and ready to fight.McGruder is the only Wildcat averaging in double-figure scoring (14.7 points per game) and he had 28 in a win over Oklahoma State last weekend, but nine Kansas State players have scored 10 or more points in a game this season.Kansas State also ranks second in the country in offensive rebounds, which is also an issue for the Mountaineers, who lost their Big 12 opener a week ago at home to Oklahoma because they couldn't keep the Sooners from getting second shots on possessions at the end of what had been a close game.
"We've got to keep them off the glass,'' Huggins said.Oh, and the Wildcats are well rested, too. They've not played since that 73-67 win at Oklahoma last Saturday. WVU, meanwhile, had a late game at Texas on Wednesday and flight problems afterward that saw the players finally make it back home around dawn on Thursday. BRIEFLY: Kansas State, of course, is where Huggins coached for one year before coming to West Virginia. His replacement there was friend and assistant coach Frank Martin, but Martin left in the offseason to go to South Carolina. Veteran coach Bruce Weber is now the K-State coach. Weber has coached 482 games at Southern Illinois, Illinois and Kansas State, but has never faced West Virginia. The teams met last year in Wichita, Kan., a game WVU won 85-80 in two overtimes. The return game was to be played this season in Charleston, but was scrapped when West Virginia joined the Big 12 and became a league rival with automatic home-and-home games. The only other game between the teams was a Kansas State win in Morgantown in 1949.
After the game with Kansas State, West Virginia plays twice on the road next week -- Wednesday at Iowa State and the final non-conference game of the year Saturday at Purdue. The next home game is Jan. 23 vs. TCU. Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.