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Defense lifts Wildcats past WVU

By ARNE GREEN

Special to The Hays Daily News

MANHATTAN -- The Kansas State Wildcats have built their growing reputation on defense.

West Virginia was just the latest victim to learn that the offense is catching up.

K-State shot 54.9 percent from the field while still clamping down the Mountaineer offense Saturday and the result was a resounding 78-56 victory at Bramlage Coliseum.

"The best teams do both," K-State coach Bruce Weber said after watching his Wildcats improve to 14-4 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12. "We had so many new guys early that we had to decide, 'What are we going to really emphasize?'

"(The players) will probably tell you, two-thirds of our practices were probably defense early.

"I think that's why we struggled (scoring) and I tried to be patient with the young guys, learning what shot selection is -- our shot selection is much better than it early in the year. If you guard people, it gives you a chance to win."

The Wildcats had the best of both worlds against West Virginia, knocking down 14 of 24 first-half shots, including half of their 10 3-point attempts on the way to a 37-24 lead at the break. Defensively, they held the Mountaineers (10-8, 2-3) to 30 percent -- 32.7 for the game.

West Virginia answered Marcus Foster's opening 3-pointer with two of its own from Eron Harris on the way to an early 8-3 advantage, but K-State wasted no time seizing control and leaving the Mountaineers behind.

Thomas Gipson scored twice inside with Shane Southwell and Will Spradling knocking down 3-pointers during a 15-3 spurt that put the Wildcats in front to stay. They then ran off seven more to lead 28-15 on a Wesley Iwundu three and Southwell's fast-break layup that led to a WVU timeout at the 4:29 mark.

"I thought (we were) just being smart, being patient and not turning the ball over," said Southwell, who tied Gipson for scoring honors with 20 points, adding five rebounds and four assists. "They switched up a lot in terms of going from the 1-3-1 zone to man and ... we just wanted to play aggressive."

Weber liked what he saw on both ends of the court.

"After (West Virginia's 8-3 start) we did a good job and really locked in and did a good job being solid on defense," he said. "We got a run there and I think we kind of broke their spirit right before halftime and then the good start to the second half kind of put them down."

Foster, who played just three minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls, led another K-State surge to start the second period with eight points in the first 4 minutes, 35 seconds. Gipson also had two baskets during the run and Southwell's second 3-pointer after intermission made it 55-30 with 13:55 left.

With Foster out, it was just a matter of others filling the void, according to Southwell, who was 6 of 10 from the field, including four 3-pointers.

"Within the offense you're going to get shots and you've got to make shots," Southwell said. "Early in the year I don't think I was making shots within the offense.

"I really wasn't paying any attention (to Foster's absence). He came back in and did what Marcus does best, which is score."

Foster finished with 15 points in 13 total minutes. For Gipson, it was a bounce-back game after he struggled Tuesday in a victory against Oklahoma.

"The coaches really told me I had to bounce back and I guess that's just part of being a leader," said Gipson, who made 9 of 11 shots and grabbed six rebounds in 30 minutes after managing just four points against the Sooners. "I kind of took it hard on myself the last game.

"I really wasn't in the rhythm and I was in foul trouble. I just wanted to come out and play hard this game and try and get early shots and rebound for my team."

For West Virginia, which dropped its third straight game after a 2-0 league start, Harris was the leading scorer with 21 points and point guard Juwan Staten had 16 points and 11 rebounds but seven turnovers.

"It was a good win -- a good all-around win," Weber said.

The Wildcats now go on the road for two straight, traveling to Texas on Tuesday night and Iowa State for a Saturday afternoon game.