MANHATTAN, Kan. - Even during what has been a wholly lackluster season to date, West Virginia's basketball team could at least point to the fact that it had yet to put together back-to-back dismal performances. Even when they played poorly one game, the Mountaineers always seemed to be able to bounce back the next.
Well, that's no longer true.
On the heels of a rout at the hands of Texas on Monday night, the Mountaineers laid another huge egg Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum. Kansas State smothered WVU defensively and made shots all afternoon, burying West Virginia 78-56.
The Wildcats led by as many as 25 points. Unlike Monday, when Texas led by 22 in the second half before settling for an 80-69 win in Morgantown, WVU didn't even close the gap much this time.
"You've got to be mentally tough against that team,'' WVU point guard Juwan Staten said, "and we just weren't.''
The loss was the third in row for West Virginia (10-8, 2-3 Big 12) after starting the league season 2-0 on the road. The Mountaineers' next game is Wednesday at home against one of those teams they beat to start the season, Texas Tech.
Kansas State (14-4, 4-1) won for the 12th time in 13 games.
How did Kansas State manage to pretty much dominate West Virginia? Well, by doing pretty much what it advertises. K-State won a share of the Big 12 title last season and is off to another fast start this season primarily because of its defense. On Saturday, coach Bruce Webber had already used 10 players by the second TV timeout of the game and those fresh defenders chased the Mountaineers everywhere, seldom allowing an opening to shoot or drive.
"That's what they do. Kansas State is one of the hardest-playing teams in the Big 12,'' Staten said. "You have to be strong-minded to overcome that and we weren't strong enough to do it.''
The Mountaineers seemed strong enough only for about three minutes. That was when they jumped ahead 8-3 when Eron Harris made a couple of early 3-pointers and actually seemed to have it all going for them. Kansas State had turned the ball over three straight times and the only time the Wildcats scored was on a 3-pointer at the very end of a shot clock.
But that was pretty much it. Not only did it take the Mountaineers the rest of the first half to match the three field goals they scored in the first three minutes, they also watched Kansas State consistently work the shot clock down. Turns out that early 3-pointer late in the shot clock wasn't lucky, it was planned.
"They really pass the ball,'' Bob Huggins said of the Wildcats. "I think that's the best thing they do. I think that's better than their defense.''
Indeed, if it is Kansas State's goal to pass the ball, work the clock and get the latest and best shot possible, the Wildcats did that Saturday. A team that sits at the very bottom of the Big 12 statistics in every shooting category - field goals, 3-pointers and free throws - shot 54.9 percent for the game. When the Wildcats did that, combined with their tenacity on defense, West Virginia had no chance.
Still, the Mountaineers were kicking themselves for not even putting up much of a fight. Or at least Staten was.
"The only way to attack a defense like that is to cut sharp and move and do everything crisp,'' Staten said. "We didn't do that. If you're going to cut [as slow] like that, it's kind of pointless even to do it.''
Harris and Staten, again, did much of the scoring for West Virginia, combining for 37 of the 56 points. Harris even broke out of a shooting slump to some extent, making 4 of 8 3-pointers.
But after making two 3s in the opening three minutes of the game, Harris wasn't much of a factor as Kansas State built its lead to as many as 14 points in the first half and 25 in the second.
Staten, too, had a big flaw in his game. One of the most secure ball-handlers in the Big 12, he had a career-high seven turnovers. That detracted from the double-double he had otherwise with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
As a team, West Virginia had almost no luck against Kansas State's defense, especially in the half court. Harris and Staten combined to make a respectable 10 of 22 shots, but everyone else was a combined 6 for 27, 22.2 percent.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
KANSAS STATE 78, WEST VIRGINIA 56
West Virginia (10-8, 2-3)
Min FG FT R A P
Williams 24 3-7 3-6 7 0 9
Noreen 21 0-3 2-4 7 0 2
Staten 38 5-10 6-8 11 3 16
Harris 33 5-12 7-8 3 0 21