Toppers more focused on themselves than on Tigers

Sophomore guard Caden Dickerson walks to the locker room after WKU’s 82-62 loss to Vanderbilt on Wednesday that pushed the Toppers’ record to 3-4.

Zach Greenwell

When a team is preparing to face a ranked opponent and that foe isn’t the main concern, it can be a bad sign.

For Head Coach Ken McDonald, it’s a sign of the uphill climb to come for WKU.

The Toppers (3-4) play at No. 14 Memphis at 7 p.m. Saturday, but McDonald said WKU’s focusing on self-evaluation after taking its third straight loss with an 82-62 drubbing at Vanderbilt Wednesday.

“This is one of those times where I’m not as worried about who we’re playing,” McDonald said. “I’m more worried about where we are as a team in terms of playing hard and doing some of the things we need to do fundamentally.”

The Toppers weren’t too sound fundamentally against Vanderbilt. They turned the ball over 22 times in the game, including 16 in the first half.

“Looking back on it, I don’t think we can take too much positive from it,” senior forward Juan Pattillo said. “We prepared the last couple days, and we didn’t come out with no pride, no sense of urgency, no energy. The effort was terrible.”

The sloppy performance came right on the heels of a double-overtime loss to South Carolina, in which McDonald said he thought he saw WKU improve.

But that improvement didn’t show Wednesday.

“I was embarrassed, and I said that anybody in that game should be embarrassed,” McDonald said. “We’ll look hard in the mirror, and hopefully the guys see a situation where they’re like, ‘God, I can’t believe I did that, and I’m not going to do that again.’”

A repeat performance of the Vanderbilt game would make things tough for the Toppers in Memphis Saturday.

The Tigers were ranked eighth in the country in scoring as of Wednesday with 88.4 points per game, and they’ve started their season 6-0.

“We’ve got to pick it up,” Pattillo said. “We’ve got Memphis next, so we’ve got to prepare for them and take it one game at a time. But we’ve got to get better in the next couple days.”

Junior guard Wesley Witherspoon leads Memphis with 15.4 points per game. He’s aided by freshman guards Joe Jackson and Will Barton, who average 12 points and 11 points per game, respectively.

But the Tigers have shown that they can be vulnerable. Sun Belt member Arkansas State took them to the wire Wednesday before falling in overtime, 78-71.

McDonald said he knows playing at Memphis is another opportunity for a signature win, just like Vanderbilt, so he hopes the Toppers are learning lessons with each obstacle.

“Some of the big things we’ll talk about are handling situations and handling the crowd,” he said. “What if Memphis goes on a run? How are we going to react, and who’s going to be ready to help off the bench if we do have some guys that aren’t ready?”

One player who says he’s ready for the trip is senior forward Sergio Kerusch. Kerusch is originally from Memphis, having attended Overton High School in the city.

Kerusch said after the Vanderbilt game that he puts more pressure on himself against Memphis because it’s his “homecoming.”

But with a message very similar to McDonald’s, Kerusch said the Tigers are hardly the biggest beast that WKU has to tame.

“I’m going to try to do the best I can … and rise myself above the regular expectations,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a team sport, not an individual effort. We’ve got to do whatever we can to win.”