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Sleeveless in the Little Apple: Spradling turning up his game

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at 4:41 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Jan. 31, 2014, at 6:01 p.m.

Photos

Kansas State at West Virginia

When: 12:45 p.m. Saturday

Where: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, W.Va.

Records: KSU 15-6, 5-3 Big 12; WVU 12-9, 4-4

Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM

TV: KSAS

Kansas State at West Virginia

PKansas StateHt.Yr. PtsReb
FThomas Gipson6-7Jr.11.86.2
FWesley Iwundu6-7Fr.7.04.4
GWill Spradling6-2Sr.7.73.1
GMarcus Foster6-2Fr.13.43.8
GShane Southwell6-7Sr.11.34.9
West Virginia
FKevin Noreen6-10Jr.2.02.7
FDevin Williams6-9Fr.9.17.5
GTerry Henderson6-4So.12.22.9
GEron Harris6-3So.17.33.7
GJuwan Staten6-1Jr.17.25.9

West Virginia (12-9, 4-4): The Mountaineers have played well since losing to the Wildcats at Bramlage Coliseum last month. They have won two of their last three games, with the only loss coming by a slim margin at Oklahoma State. They are coming off a road victory against Baylor and are now trying to go above .500 in conference play. Eron Harris and Juwan Staten have been their main catalysts. Both guards average more than 17 points. West Virginia is always tough at home, but it has struggled to defend WVU Coliseum the way it normally does this season. It has already lost four home games.

Kansas State (15-6, 5-3): The Wildcats are starting to get consistent production out of Will Spradling, but their leading scorers have been off lately. Thomas Gipson hasn’t played well in his past two games, Marcus Foster has been up and down, and Shane Southwell is in a mini slump. While Spradling scored 17 points against Texas Tech, K-State’s top three scorers combined to score 13 points. K-State will nee more out of each of them to win on the road. Bruce Weber is 5-0 against Bob Huggins, and he has won all three meetings against West Virginia since arriving at K-State.

RPIs as of Friday: K-State 39, WVU 83.

Will Spradling is talking about his undershirt. He is doing that a lot lately.

Since Spradling was informed he could no longer wear his favorite T-shirt under his Kansas State basketball uniform — because it contained more than one color — before taking the floor against Texas two weeks ago, he has been on a hot streak.

He scored eight points against Texas, 12 points against Iowa State and 17 points against Texas Tech, all while wearing nothing but a sleeveless chest protector under his jersey. At this rate, he will top 20 points at West Virginia on Saturday and return to Bramlage Coliseum ready to try for 30 against Texas and Kansas.

OK, so that might be a stretch. But the days of Spradling shooting airballs and averaging 6.9 points, as he did in his first 18 games, may be over.

“I am probably playing with the most confidence I’ve had since I got to college,” Spradling said. “I feel really comfortable. I am making plays that I wasn’t earlier.”

Those plays include coming off screens to hit three-pointers, getting to the foul line and making free throws and converting a jaw-dropping reverse layup in traffic.

That surge of offense is a far cry from the way the senior guard started the year, missing open shots by more than a foot and clanking free throws. Though Spradling helped K-State by moving effortlessly in Bruce Weber’s motion offense, feeding the ball to teammates and avoiding turnovers, he sometimes seemed like a liability. Opposing defenders could sag off him and focus their efforts elsewhere.

Not anymore.

“Will has helped us out in terms of spacing and screening. He is our best motion player. But now that he is making shots he is putting a lot of emphasis on people,” senior guard Shane Southwell said. “They have to guard him. That helps open up things for other players. It helps all of us that he is making shots.”

Weber hopes Spradling can continue scoring more than 10 points. The Wildcats are helping him by designing plays that revolve around him.

That showed against Texas Tech, when he became the focal point of K-State’s attack.

“Will is one of the best shooters in the Big 12, maybe the country,” junior forward Nino Williams said. “It’s good to see him playing with confidence again. He is so unselfish, he passes up open shots to get other people the ball, but coaches have been all over him lately to shoot the ball. I think he has embraced that.”

If Spradling keeps shooting well, K-State’s offense will finally have a complete feel to it.

“If he can hit two threes a game, a couple pull ups and some free throws and get to double digits he becomes more of a threat,” Weber said. “Plus, people start chasing him more like they have been the last couple games. That helps Marcus (Foster) and that helps Shane. They can both get open when defenses have to worry about Will.”

Spradling has given himself an opportunity to end his senior year on a high note.

“It would mean the world to me,” Spradling said. “I have been playing well the last couple games. I am just trying to keep it up.”

So what sparked Spradling’s sudden improvement?

There are many answers. He is playing with more passion now that the end of his college career is approaching. Coaches are urging him to be more aggressive and he is now making late-night trips to Bramlage Coliseum instead of K-State’s practice facility to work on his shot.

That last switch has given him a greater feel for making three-pointers in arenas, and it has carried over into games.

“When I was missing shots, I was shooting a ton of quick releases and not getting my legs under me,” Spradling said. “For some reason, I would lose my legs every time I tried to get them under my jump shot, especially on the move. Now I’m trying to get more jumpers where I get my feet set and my legs under me. That’s why I am so much more comfortable shooting the ball.”

Well, that and he switched to a sleeveless undershirt.

“It is funny that so many people are focusing on that,” Spradling said. “It was just coincidence. I don’t think that has anything to do with it. Who knows? Maybe it was something I needed. I am making shots. We are all superstitious on some levels, so you won’t see me wearing sleeves again.”

Reach Kellis Robinett at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @kellisrobinett.

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