PITTSBURGH — West Virginia power forward Sagaba Konate will not play in Saturday’s Backyard Brawl, WVU head coach Bob Huggins said in an appearance on 93.7 The Fan on Friday afternoon.
Konate, who flirted with leaving early for the NBA after a tremendous 2017-18 season, has done even better so far in 2018-19. The Kennedy Catholic (Hermitage, Pa.) grad is averaging 13.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He also blocks over two shots per game.
Konate has been dealing with a right-knee injury and missed the game against Rider on Nov. 28. He played in the Mountaineers’ 66-56 loss to Florida on Tuesday, but was 2 of 10 for just four points.
“I don’t think Konate plays on Saturday,” Huggins said. “I don’t think there’s any chance that he does.”
His absence should be of significance for Pitt. The Panthers’ big men have not come through much the scoring department this season, and the presence of an elite shot-blocker like Konate could have de-railed their efforts further.
Pitt head coach Jeff Capel said on Thursday that he’s admired Huggins’ ability to adapt as the game has changed and the fact that he’s been able to continue to display his trademarked fiery nature and utilize his notoriously difficult practices, despite a changing landscape in basketball that means many players enter the collegiate ranked having never been coached that way before.
“I’ve always had a ton of respect for him,” Capel said. “I think he’s coached some of the best teams. I thought he had a team at Cincinnati – it’s a travesty what happened to Kenyon Martin because I thought they were the best team in the country. The thing that I’ve always admired is how his players love him. And he coaches them hard. I mean, really, really hard. But they know that he loves them, and because of that, they love him and he’s able to coach them hard, he’s able to push them, he’s able to, at times, take it to the edge, but they know that he really and truly cares about them.”
“I’ve always felt that’s the sign of a really good coach, is how loyal the players are to him. And you go back to those guys that played for him at Cincinnati and the guys that play for him now at West Virginia and that have played for him there and even his one year at K-State or however many years he was there, they are incredibly loyal to him. That’s a testament to who he is as a man more than as a coach.”
Huggins likewise gave high praise to the job that Capel has done thus far at Pitt. When asked during his weekly interview with broadcaster Tony Caridi how Pitt looks under Capel, Huggins didn’t mince words.
“Duke. I mean that’s what they are. They’re straight-line drive guys. They put tremendous amount of pressure on the rim the way they want o play fans and they’ve got three guys shooting over, I think it’s over 43 percent from three. So they get you spread and attack you.”
KEEPING IT GOING?
The teams will play for the second straight season after allowing the rivalry to go dormant from 2012 to 2017. They have two more games in the current contract. It seems Huggins is keen to keep the rivalry going beyond that.
“We need to do it for the fanbase of both schools,” he said on The Fan. “It’s drivable for our people, drivable for their people, and it’s a great atmosphere. It’s one of the great atmosphere in college basketball.”