K-State men’s basketball looks to out-press No. 9 West Virginia

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Then-sophomore forward Wesley Iwundu tries to pass as he gets caught up in West Virginia's full-court press applied by guard Tarik Phillip (12) and guard Jevon Carter (right) in the first half of the Wildcats' 59-65 loss to the Mountaineers Jan. 27, 2015, in Bramlage Coliseum. (File Photo by Parker Robb | The Collegian)

When run correctly, the full-court press can be one of the most effective weapons in disrupting an offense. No one runs the press better than K-State’s opponent tonight, the No. 9 West Virginia Mountaineers, who are 16-3 overall and 5-2 in the Big 12.

West Virginia is the first repeat conference opponent for the Wildcats, who are 12-7 overall and 2-5 in Big 12 play. The first matchup between the two was on Jan. 2, and it ended in heartbreak for K-State. The Wildcats had the Mountaineers on the ropes in their first conference game of the season, but they ended up falling 83-87 at home in double overtime.

In that close loss, the Wildcats found a way to break West Virginia’s press, a feat K-State head coach Bruce Weber said was several games in the making.

“I think the first time you face it, it’s always hard,” Weber said. “Our kids couldn’t understand how hard they play, how they just keep coming at you. The second time we were better. So now the third time our kids had a little better understanding.”

It wasn’t the press, however, that got the Mountaineers their win. In the second half, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins switched up his defense to zone, which has been a bugaboo for the Wildcats all year.

“To (the Mountaineers’) credit, they did get out of the press down the stretch and played zone the last five, six minutes and then the two overtimes,” Weber said. “So for 15-17 minutes they played zone the entire time and didn’t press us. They’ve been able to win the close games, they’ve been able to win with different styles and that’s what makes them so successful and why they’re a top 10 team.”

K-State is coming off a huge bounce-back win over Oklahoma State after a painfully close double-overtime loss to Baylor in Waco, Texas. The loss was K-State’s fifth of the season by 10 or less to a top 25 team.

“After the (Baylor) game our kids were just crushed,” Weber said. “(The team) was crushed, (the staff) was crushed, but you can’t get mad at them. We played hard. We did a lot of good things, we just didn’t win the game. We’ve had several of these now where we’ve been in that situation.”

After K-State sticking it to the Oklahoma State Cowboys, heartbreak has turned to hope for Weber’s Wildcats, who have proven they can beat teams in the lower and middle tiers of the conference.

After coming so close so many times, the Wildcats want to show that they can take that next step and knock off a ranked team.

“The kids responded,” Weber said. “But now, the thing that I suggested today is: ‘Where do we go from here?’ And that’s the big thing. You responded well, we played maybe, as well on both ends of the court as we’ve done all year, and it always helps to make shots, but now you go to West Virginia, which is obviously a tough opponent. How will we respond? Are we going to take a step forward or are we going to go backwards again?”

K-State and West Virginia go at it at 6 p.m. today inside WVU Coliseum.

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Tim Everson was born in Wichita, KS in 1994. Before fifth grade he moved up to Manhattan for one year before settling in Riley, KS where he graduated from Riley County High School in 2012. Tim has worked for the Collegian since spring of 2014 and took over as Sports Editor during the summer of 2015. Tim loves sports, music, movies and good food when he can get it.