WKU hoops thoughts

23 01 2011

Oh what a difference a week makes.

Right?

I’ll be the first to admit that I was pretty tough on Western Kentucky’s overall effort over its first 16 games of the season, and I still stand by every word I wrote.

And two wins is just two wins – so in no way am I convinced that everything will end up being ‘Ok’ with this team. Not yet. Not really by a long shot.

But.

Two wins for a team with a six-game slide and some serious home woes? Even the pessimist in me can see the sunshine in that.

Make no mistake, the past week for the 2010-11 WKU basketball team’s psyche was huge. The group got a road win that saw it manhandle a team for 32 minutes before showing some resolve late to hang on.

The Hilltoppers also did what they’re supposed to do when they took on a team like Troy at home – they smoked them. No offense to the Trojans, but 4-15 teams don’t generally stand much of a chance in Diddle Arena. Nor should they.

In any event, I spent some time a few weeks ago looking at nothing but the negatives and why this basketball team had so many issues – so let’s flip the switch.

It took a little longer than it should have, but the no-name gimmick seems to have worked – for now

I still haven’t figured out who exactly was tasked with the mission of de-threading the name plates off the back of each Hilltopper jersey, but it was a figurative statement that was long overdue.

No question about it, more than a handful of these players seemed to only be out for themselves for most of the first month and a half of the season.

And even after the last names were removed at Troy earlier this month – that type of effort still showed up, as the team was embarrassed in a 14-point road loss to a team with one prior Division I win.

From there, WKU came home to take on Florida Atlantic – suffering another loss. Ken McDonald said he saw an attitude change during the second half of that contest, and at the time I in no way believed him, but maybe there was something to it.

I asked Steffphon Pettigrew, I asked McDonald, I asked Sergio Kerusch on Thursday after the South Alabama win when exactly this team figured out that going it alone was simply a futile concept.

All of them pointed to the second half of the Florida Atlantic game.

From the opening warmups in Mobile on Thursday the group just seemed more interested in winning a basketball game. No one was practicing half-court shots, the entire team was running through drills together – no goofing, everyone in shooting shirts. For the first time really all season, the group seemed ready for business.

And though they had their issues over the first 15 minutes against USA, they fought through them. There were turnovers, there were breakdowns, there were mistakes – but every time, someone walked over to the person in question and patted him on the shoulder.

When Cliff Dixon fell down, Juan Pattillo picked him up. When Jamal Crook turned the ball over, Steffphon Pettigrew told him they’d get it back. When Caden Dickerson missed another 3-pointer, Sergio Kerusch picked up the rebound and tossed it back in.

They weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination on Thursday – but for the first time all season, the Western Kentucky basketball team was just that.

It was a team.

That didn’t seem to change on Saturday against Troy either.

When Dickerson continued to slump through the worst shooting skid of his young career, the group kept feeding him.

Dickerson missed his first deep shot, then passed up another a few possessions later – leading to an empty possession.

On the way back down the floor, Steffphon Pettigrew yelled over to him and motioned for him to just shoot the ball.

A few minutes later, with more urging from the entire WKU bench, Dickerson finally pulled the trigger and it fell.

All four players on the floor seemed excited for him, and the coaching staff about jumped out of their collective loafers.

That type of stuff didn’t happen two weeks ago, or three weeks ago.

The seat’s still warm under Ken McDonald’s chair, as WKU is still just a 7-11 basketball team with a 2-4 record in one of the worst leagues in D-1 hoops.

The pressure’s still there – make no mistake.

But his guys are nameless now. As Kerusch put it last night:

“Everybody just finally decided that ‘hey, if we’re not a team, we’re going to lose and if we are a team, we’ll win. Everybody just said ‘we’re all in together. Now it’s one for all and all for one.”

Pretty cliche – but then again, so was the removing of the last names in the first place. Then again, you don’t always have to be completely original to save a basketball season.

– And before you drive the final nail in the coffin on this team, give it another week or so.

This week’s road trip to Florida for a Thursday game at FIU and a Saturday tilt at FAU is the biggest week of the season to date.

If you get by FIU on Thursday, you’re no worse than third place in the Sun Belt East.

If you pay back FAU on Saturday, you’ve done something no one else has all season – win a league game against the Owls.

If you sweep the week, you enter a five-game homestand with a record of 9-11, 4-4 in the league – and more importantly, a four-game winning streak.

From there you get South Alabama at home, Louisiana-Monroe at home, Middle Tennessee at home, North Texas at home on ESPN and the final non-league tilt of the year against Florida Gulf Coast.

All in a row.

I don’t have a crystal ball – but if teamwork continues over the next week in south Florida, a team that was once beyond life support just might find itself right back in the mix for a run in the Sun Belt Tournament.

Who knows?

Stranger things have happened.


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One response

24 01 2011
Bret

Hell yea! This made me get chills! GO TOPS!!! Beat em all!!!!

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