Tops preaching patience

WKU head coach Ken McDonald yells to referees after a WKU turnover in the second half last Saturday. WKU lost to South Carolina, 87-85, in double overtime.

Zach Greenwell

As he tries to bring together a team with seven newcomers, Head Coach Ken McDonald said he’d love for all the pieces to already be in place. 

But that’s just not the case. And because it’s taken the Toppers (3-3) longer to gel than expected, McDonald said he’s learning a few lessons along the way. 

“I’m really trying to be patient and understanding about the process part of it,” he said. “As coaches sometimes you’re not, and I’m the worst culprit of that at times because you want it done right then. But you’ve got to start somewhere.” 

WKU’s 87-85 loss to South Carolina in double overtime Saturday was the latest blow in a 1-3 skid for the Toppers, but they said it was the start they’ve been looking for. 

The season began with two blowout wins over St. Joseph’s and Alabama A&M. Then WKU was thoroughly handled by Minnesota and Davidson in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Only a comeback win over Hofstra salvaged that trip. 

The loss to former WKU coach Darrin Horn’s South Carolina squad goes down as another blotch on the Toppers’ record, but senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said the effort was much better than the letdown in Puerto Rico. 

“It was right there for us, and the ball just didn’t bounce our way,” he said. “We have a lot of positives from this game, though. We played well in the first half and the second half, but we’ve just got to work on finishing the game.” 

McDonald and the Toppers will have their patience tested in the coming weeks as they ride through a daunting non-conference slate. 

WKU plays at Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. Wednesday, then travels to No. 14 Memphis Saturday. Games against Southern Illinois, Murray State and Louisville follow. 

“We’ve got a bunch of guys in the locker room trying, and it’s not going to get any easier night in and night out,” McDonald said. “But this will be a great test for our team.” 

The remaining 2010 schedule is a test McDonald said he’d like to do with a deeper bench. WKU used just eight players against South Carolina, and senior forward Cliff Dixon played just four minutes. 

Junior guard Kahlil McDonald and sophomore guard Caden Dickerson were the only reserves who played significant minutes, but senior forward Sergio Kerusch said their contributions were strong. 

Junior guard Ken Brown also impressed with sophomore Jamal Crook out with a hamstring injury, playing 40 minutes and scoring 12 points. 

“Guys are getting better,” Kerusch said. “We’re starting to mold as a team. It’s a slow process, but the fans can see that it’s coming together.” 

McDonald said he can see it coming together, too, even if the progress is gradual. But at some point, he said improvement has to come at a faster rate. 

“We’re going to be able to watch on tape and see several times how we could have finished it, but that’s part of the learning process with this team,” McDonald said. “We had some real bright spots, but now we have to get better at finishing games and sustaining that effort.”