Konate’s Defense Is Not Enough

MORGANTOWN — As a basketball player you know you have arrived when your name becomes a verb. Such was the case during the 2005-06 season when then-senior Kevin Pittsnogle led West Virginia to a 22-11 record and the school’s second straight NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearance.

Along the way fans, opponents and the national media began using his name to describe how the Mountaineers’ uncanny efficiency from behind the 3-point arc was a key to their successful run through the tourney.

“You just got Pittsnogled” could be heard early and often during games that season and now fans, opposing coaches, and even the national media is beginning to take notice of another Mountaineers standout whose moniker has become synonymous with his actions on the hardwood.

Sophomore Sagaba Konate entered Saturday night’s clash with unranked Kentucky as one of the nation’s, and Big 12’s, leader in blocked shots with 62.

In a nationally televised showdown with Texas’ Mo Bamba, the Bamako, Mali, native doubled up his more acclaimed opponent, finishing with eight swats as WVU sent the Longhorns back to the Lone Star State with a convincing 35-point, 86-51, setback.

Now, the opponent was the blue bloods from the Bluegrass State and one of the burning questions asked by media covering the game was “Could Konate continue swatting shots away against the Wildcats?”

A front line consisting of 6-foot-11 Nick Richards, 6-9 Kevin Knox and 6-foot-7 PJ Washington — all freshmen — presented a daunting task for WVU’s defense and, in particular, Konate.

West Virginia’s big man was at his very best during the first half, hitting 4 of 5 shots from the field and 1 of 2 free throws while hauling down four rebounds and swatting away five shots as the hosts headed to the locker rooms leading by 15.

Kentucky’s Jarred Vanderbilt and Knox got ‘Konated’ twice during the first 20 minutes of action while Washington felt the fury once.

Making those numbers even more impressive was that he accomplished all of that in 13 minutes as Coach Bob Huggins elected to put him on the bench several minutes after he picked up his first and second foul of the half.

Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, those numbers didn’t improve much during the second half as Kentucky came back from an 18-point deficit to leave Morgantown with an 83-76 victory.

“It’s hard to do the things I want to do in a game when I’m not in,” Konate said. “I try to do the things the coaches want of me, but it’s hard sometimes because I am not sure how the officials are going to let me play.”

And, it showed on the court as his third foul at the 15:46 mark with WVU leading by 11, 54-43, allowed the Wildcats to go on an 11-0 run and pull to within four, 56-52, with 12:41 left in the game.

Another ‘Konate’ at the 12:17 mark on a Wenyen Gabriel attempt and his final one on a Diallo shot with 9:40 left to play was followed by foul No. 4 five seconds later and the night was, for all intents and purposes, over for the Mountaineers’ rim protector.

“We really didn’t talk about (Konate) alone,” KU’s Richards explained. “We talked about not making mistakes and playing tougher inside. And, I guess, that meant doing a better job on him.”

Konate was able to contribute four points and two rebounds to go with his sixth and seventh swats. But, it wasn’t nearly enough for WVU, which now must go on the road to Iowa State on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. Big 12 contest.

Locally, Wheeling Central grad Chase Harler saw 10 minutes of action and went 1-for-2 from the arc while Cameron’s Logan Routt saw nine minutes and hauled down a pair of rebounds.