Konate’s Energy Surge Leads WVU Past Valpo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va–At halftime of West Virginia’s basketball game against Valparaiso on Saturday, WVU junior center Sagaba Konate was limited to deuces – two points, two fouls, two rebounds.
In part because of his lack of production, the Mountaineers led Valpo by just three, 39-36.
But Konate found an energy surge in the second half and exploded for 24 points and eight rebounds in the final 20 minutes, helping West Virginia pull away for an 88-76 victory over the Crusaders.
“My energy and effort wasn’t that good the first half,” admitted Konate. “I needed to work on that. I didn’t have a lot of energy at the beginning. At halftime, I knew I needed to work on that.
“Coach (Bob Huggins) told me at halftime I needed to pick it up; my energy level sucked,” he added. “That’s what I was working on.”
The 6-foot-8, 250-pounder not only wound up with a career-high 26 points, bettering his previous best of 20 last season against Long Beach, but he was five-of-eight from three-point range. This from a post player who didn’t attempt a three-pointer in his first two seasons at WVU and managed to make four-of-12 in the previous four games this year.
“When I’m making (three-pointers), sometimes they have to come out and guard me,” noted Konate, who is a native of Bamko, Mali. “That opens things up for Esa (Ahmad) and Lamont (West).
“Also when I started hitting those shots, I can move down and post up. It makes me harder to guard.”
With Konate’s improved energy came improved all-around play by the Mountaineers. As a team, they hit 19-of-35 field goal attempts (54.3 percent) and six-of-12 three-pointers (50.0 percent) in the second half and maybe most importantly turned the ball over just once.
“They were trying to take the paint way from us, so there wasn’t really anyone guarding him (when Konate stepped outside),” explained Huggins of Valpo’s defense. “I’m OK with him shooting it, but I just don’t want him to shoot it on the first pass. We got beat by Western Kentucky because whoever got it shot it. When we run some motion and curls and things, and Sags steps back from there with his shoulders square, he’s pretty good. He’s worked really hard on shooting it.”
Though known mainly as a shot blocker in his previous time with the Mountaineers (180 in his career, which is 10 off D’or Fischer’s WVU record), Konate has put in a lot of time to improving his shooting form. Though he didn’t attempt a three last year, he did make 79 percent of his free throws. Now he’s added a consistent three-point jumper, as he’s made nine-of-20 from beyond the arc so far this young season.
“The last two years, it was just a process,” Konate said. “At the beginning and end of every year, (he and the coaches) sat down and talked about what we needed to do.
“The last two years, I was mainly a role player. My freshman year I mainly blocked shots. My sophomore year I started rebounding more and scored a little bit. This year, I am trying to do a little of everything.”
Konate’s shooting also opened up operating room for Ahmad Saturday, who also posted a new scoring career high himself. The senior forward had scored 27 against Kansas a couple years ago, but bettered that with 30 against Valpo.
“I felt good, and my teammates kept going to me,” noted Ahmad, who scored 16 points in the first half and 14 in the second. “Sags was hitting the three today, and that kind of opened up the lane.”
The 3-2 Mountaineers host Rider (2-1) this coming Wednesday and then Youngstown State (3-4) next Saturday before traveling to New York City on Tuesday, Dec. 4 to face Florida (3-3) in Madison Square Garden as part of the Jimmy V Classic.