Notes: Seniors Pattillo, Pettigrew gelling in frontcourt

Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew goes up for a basket against Alabama A&M on Monday night’s game in Diddle Arena. WKU beat Alabama A&M 83 to 61.

Zach Greenwell

WKU boasts a front line smaller than most with a 6-foot-5-inch Steffphon Pettigrew and 6-foot-6 inch Juan Pattillo, but the senior forwards have been productive so far.

The duo combined for 40 points and 18 rebounds in WKU’s 83-61 win at home against Alabama A&M Monday night, which Head Coach Ken McDonald said was pleasing.

“I love it. I think they’re different types of players, and I think they’ve learned to really play together,” he said. “There’s already a chemistry with those two guys. I think they’re both very hard-nosed in terms of not wanting to be scored on, so I think there’s a lot of pride defensively.”

Pettigrew and Pattillo found the same groove in the win over St. Joseph’s, combining for 34 points in Philadelphia.

“I like playing with Juan a lot,” Pettigrew said. “Just playing these last two games, we’re trying to read each other. We’re getting a good feel like I had with (former Topper) Jeremy (Evans), so I’m getting a good feel with him, knowing where he’s going to be on the court.”

Pattillo got to start building chemistry with Pettigrew during practice last year while sitting out as a transfer from Oklahoma, but he said things have progressed quickly in real-game situations.

“We’ve been practicing on the red squad since the beginning now, so we’ve been building a relationship and feeding off each other,” Pattillo said. “We just look for each other in the post basically. As long as we grind it out inside, it opens the outside and makes everything else easier.”

McDonald, Toppers say free throws will just take work

McDonald said he only remembers being involved in one other game where one team shot 50 free throws.

He was an assistant at Clemson, and it was the Tigers’ opponent, North Carolina, that frequented the free throw line so often.

So although WKU made just 24 of its 50 free throw tries in the win over Alabama A&M, McDonald said it’s nice to be the one with so many opportunities.

“We were at (North) Carolina on the bad end of that, and we ended up playing with four players. It’s good to be on this side of it,” he said. “We’re aggressive, but we’ve just got to finish our free throws.”

Every single Topper who shot a free throw was a culprit in the 48-percent display. Nine different WKU players went to the charity stripe, and each missed at least one.

“Once you see one person miss and you get to the line, you don’t want to miss as well,” Pettigrew said. “So you’re thinking about it, but hopefully we’ll never have another game like this from the free throw line.”

Pattillo suggested after the game that the Toppers may not have been practicing free throws as often lately as they should.

McDonald agreed, saying he spotted several bad habits during the game.

“There are some things that we’re not doing — staying on the free throw line,” McDonald said. “Everybody at times was backing up and not following through, and that’s something you can correct. As you continue to do that in basketball games, I think we’ll get better.”

WKU made 9 of 13 free throws in its season-opening win at St. Joseph’s last Friday.

Minnesota and Tubby await

The Toppers leave Tuesday morning for San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they’ll compete in the 2010 Honda Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

WKU’s first-round game is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers, led by former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, have started their season 2-0, including a win Monday night over Sienna.

“It’s going to be a heck of a game,” McDonald said. “Coach Smith has done a good job everywhere he’s been. He’s been there a while, he’s got his system in place, recruiting’s going well. This is going to be their best team, and we’re going into the game understanding that.”

Junior forward Ralph Sampson III has been Minnesota’s biggest weapon early, averaging 16.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Junior forward Trevor Mbakwe averages 12 points and 10.5 rebounds.

If WKU wins Thursday, it will meet the winner of North Carolina-Hofstra Friday. A meeting with the Tarheels is an enticing thought, but Pettigrew said the Toppers plan to take things one step at a time.

“I think all the guys are looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s our first test, and I think the guys are ready to go in there and get a win, hopefully play North Carolina and win the whole thing.”