The Hilltoppers return to the floor Thursday to take on rival Middle Tennessee at E.A. Diddle Arena.
As most will recall, the Blue Raiders swept WKU last season – including a win at Diddle on national television.
Here’s WKU coach Ken McDonald’s comments to the media on the upcoming game:
On this week’s preparation for MTSU
“It’s a big week with some very physical games coming up, starting with Middle. Guys are pretty amped up about this game and the last time we played them we didn’t play too well – and we’re going to try and get it back.”
On the lingering sting from last season’s pair of losses to MTSU
“The game at Middle came down to them beating a 3-pointer to beat us, and we had a lot of chances to win that basketball game and that was disappointing. The game here, they were more physical than us from the beginning and we didn’t really put ourselves in position to make a run at the end of the game. That’s the most disappointing part of that one. It was a 10-point game pretty much the whole way. What you learn from that is that this is going to be a physical, intense basketball game.
“We’ll have to do a good job with our screens and cuts and we’ll have to be the more physical team. This is going to be a great game. We’re going to have to handle everything they do, we’ve got to get on the glass and not allow them to dictate how we play.
“I hope there’s a lot of emotion on our end and I think our guys understand on what we’re playing for, where we’re at in the standings. The next two weeks (are big) with the Sun Belt Tournament coming up. The guys have had a lot of focus, we’ve been dialed in the last three weeks or so and we want that to carry over – I hope the emotions are high.”
“(The carryover from last season’s losses are) bad, because of the rivalry. That’s life. If you ask their coach about the year before how we beat them a couple times and going down on their home floor and winning by 20 – it’s the same thing. That’s how it is. Unfortunately, they got us twice last year. The first time they weren’t playing well and we were the team that got them going, but they’ve always had good players and they had three that were all-conference last year. But this is a different team now.”
On how much this game means to WKU’s returning players
“It means a lot. Those guys understand where we’re at, the conference we’re in and the teams that are traditionally at the top of this conference. WKU is one of those teams. Middle Tennessee is a major foe in our conference and a good one. If you have to pick a rivalry, you have to pick them as the top one in this conference. I love the fact that our fanbases can be at this game and hopefully it’ll be a great environment.
“From a maturity standpoint, our seniors have to lead and have to have the right attitude coming in – and understand that this is a big basketball game for a lot of reasons. How we played them last time is one reason, the standings in the Sun Belt is another. The fact that this is our biggest rival (is another) – all those things are very, very important and the seniors have to lead the charge.”
On if he wants his players to get caught up in any payback scenarios, or just continue to focus on one day at a time:
“A little bit of both. You don’t want to be so emotional that you come out and forget the focus of the game plan. But I do want a lot of excitement about this matchup and I want the first four minutes to be played at a really high level.
“And with the older guys, we’ve been talking a lot about just how many more opportunities we have to take the court. If we have complete focus the next four weeks, and understanding that every day (is big) – you really come down to a small amount of days. We have to stay focused, together and understand that we can be so much better. If we stay hungry and keep that attitude, we’re going to be right where we want at the end of the year.”
On if he’s discussed how MTSU is currently the team WKU is chasing for a first round bye in the SBC Tournament:
“We talk about it, and we talk about how big a game this is and that’s part of why this is important. There’s a lot of basketball to be played for both sides, but it’s a great opportunity to be able to play them two more times. A lot can shift in the standings, but we just want to finish strong – and (Thursday) we want to just compete and put ourselves in position to win a tough basketball game at home.”
Also, a couple of rivalry fun facts for you.
WKU has not lost back-to-back home games to Middle Tennessee in men’s basketball since a loss in 1925 and 1929.
And, WKU has not had a three-game losing streak to MTSU overall since the Blue Raiders rattled off five straight wins from 1925 to 1930.