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Kentucky-West Virginia will depend on one player, says ESPN analyst

West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate (50) dunks over TCU forward Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed (23) in the first half of WVU’s 82-73 loss to the Horned Frogs in an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018.
West Virginia forward Sagaba Konate (50) dunks over TCU forward Ahmed Hamdy-Mohamed (23) in the first half of WVU’s 82-73 loss to the Horned Frogs in an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. Associated Press

At halftime of Purdue’s 92-88 win over Michigan on Thursday night, ESPN was promoting Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge.

When it comes to Kentucky-West Virginia, former Indiana coach turned studio analyst Tom Crean said the matchup boils down to one factor for Kentucky.

“How do they get Sagaba Konate outside of that paint, because he is on a two-hand tear at that rim, he really is,” Crean said. “He just punches shots. He takes the ball out of the air. He is one of the most improved players in the country, there’s no doubt about it. If they let him sit at that post, he could have a field day. Not just for what he blocks but for what he changes. They’ve got to get him pulled out away from the rim.”

The 6-8 sophomore from Mali is currently sixth in the nation in blocked shots at 3.26 per game. He has blocked 15 shots in West Virginia’s last three games, including six in WVU’s 86-51 win over Texas. He blocked seven shots on Jan. 9 in the Mountaineers’ 57-54 win over Baylor.

Konate also averaging 9.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He’s scored in double figures in WVU’s last three games, including 16 points and 10 rebounds in WVU’s 71-66 loss to Kansas.

Jevon Carter, a 6-2 senior, leads West Virginia in scoring at 16.9 points per game and is certainly a key for the Mountaineers.

“They’ve got to get him in ball screens,” Crean said. “They’ve got to force help. But I think for West Virginia, they’ve got to get even more movement in their offense. They can get stagnant. They can settle for shots. They need Jevon Carter to be a focal point, not only the first time he has it, but after he gets it up.”

Crean’s studio partner, Dalen Cuff, a former star at Columbia in the Ivy League, is also high on Konate.

“One thing I will say, and I told you guys this earlier, Sagaba Konate, one of my wife’s favorite players,” Cuff said. “’Is he the guy who blocks with two hands for West Virginia?’ I’m not sure she can say his name yet, but that guy is going to become a household name come March.”

Konate will be a big challenge for UK freshman Nick Richards, who has struggled. The 6-11 center from Kingston, Jamaica failed to score and grabbed just one rebound while playing but 11 minutes in Kentucky’s 78-65 win over visiting Mississippi State on Tuesday.

On the season, Richards is averaging 6.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Some West Virginia links:

▪ West Virginia notebook: Kentucky-WVU in Challenge; Huggins-Calipari friendship

▪ Kentucky game a boon to West Virginia’s RPI

▪ John Calipari, Bob Huggins to renew friendship, rivalry

▪ It will be a hot time in Morgantown this weekend

▪ Huggins shoots it straight on Kentucky, hopes his team does the same

[UK basketball individual game-by-game stats in a Google Doc]

SEC men’s basketball schedule for Saturday

  • 12:00 - Texas Tech at South Carolina (ESPN2)
  • 12:00 - Baylor at Florida (ESPN)
  • 2:00 - Ole Miss at Texas (ESPN2)
  • 2:00 - Georgia at Kansas State (ESPNU)
  • 2:15 - Oklahoma at Alabama (ESPN)
  • 4:00 - Tennessee at Iowa State (ESPMU)
  • 4:00 - TCU at Vanderbilt (ESPN2)
  • 4:30 - Texas A&M at Kansas (ESPN)
  • 6:00 - LSU at Auburn (SEC)
  • 6:00 - Oklahoma State at Arkansas (ESPN2)
  • 7:00 - Kentucky at West Virginia (ESPN)
  • 8:30 - Missouri at Miss State (SEC)
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