Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
A new rivalry may be firmly entrenched in the Big 12. When Bob Huggins suddenly jumped ship and left the Wildcats dangling in 2007, there was no shortage of raw emotion in Manhattan. When K-State and West Virginia met in Wichita last year for a nonconference showdown, the game was one of the hardest fought all year. The Mountaineers prevailed in overtime, 85-80, and went on to finish in the middle of a loaded Big East conference. Headed into their first year in the Big 12, it was K-State that won the uncomfortably close game, 65-64.
The see-saw of a game never witnessed a run. The biggest lead of the afternoon came when Rodney McGruder hit a three pointer with 15 minutes to play, putting K-State up by 48-41. However, West Virginia received an easy layup by Aaric Murray, two free throws by Murray, and finally a dunk by the center to bring the score to 48-47. Murray would make a free throw five minutes later that put West Virginia on top, 56-54.
An Angel Rodriguez three with five minutes to play brought the lead back to Kansas State, 57-56, but the Wildcats were never able to build on the lead and close out the Mountaineers until the last seconds. In fact, West Virginia came and regained the lead inside the final two minutes by field goals from Murray and Eron Harris. The Harris score came 26 seconds left, leaving K-State with a final possession. Convert, and leave West Virginia comfortable with their number 18 ranking. Fail, and fall to 1-1 in conference play. With 21 seconds left, Shane Southwell was fouled and made both free throws to put K-State back in the lead, 65-64.
West Virginia would actually get two more tries, obtaining the offensive rebound after Jabarie Hinds’ miss. However, Shane Southwell proved to be the final minute hero, blocking Gary Browne as time expired after hitting two do-or-die free throws only twenty seconds earlier.
Coach Bruce Weber appears to have settled on his rotation going forward, and it may mean lots of minutes for his core players. After experimenting with various packages early in the year, only three bench players saw meaningful playing time. And while Nino Williams only received 13 minutes, he’s looking increasingly important during the moments he is on the court. Today he scored six points on three of six shooting, but only had three personal fouls that contributed to early returns to the bench.
Rodney McGruder came back down to earth after looking like the best player in the conference recently, and only scored 17 points while having extreme difficulty finding the basket in the second half. And although he shot less than 50 percent on the day (7-16), his 43 percent shooting from behind the arc provided enough boost to keep the ‘Cats going during the first half. Game ball goes to Shane Southwell. In addition to his late game heroics, the junior put up the following stat line: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal, only 1 personal foul, and an amazing .714 shooting percentage in 32 minutes. He was a model of efficiency in an otherwise ugly game. It appears that this is the way K-State plans on winning this year: defensive battles wherein no team ever looks good, but one player steps up for the team to provide just enough to put the Wildcats over the top. With the number 18 ranking in the country, so far, so good.