Was Konate’s return a smoke screen? ‘That’s above my pay grade’ says Jordan McCabe

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sagaba Konate exited the team hotel Thursday armed with his No. 50 jersey, while the West Virginia pep band played the fight song in the background.

Minutes later, he was dressed to play and warming up with teammates inside the Sprint Center, minus the right knee brace he has used for support since last playing in game on Dec. 8.

However, West Virginia’s 6-foot-8 shot-blocking phenom did not see a second of action during the Mountaineers’ 79-74 upset against Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals.

West Virginia once again lists Konate as game-time decision for Friday’s semifinal round, but a source with knowledge of the situation told The Dominion Post there is no chance Konate will see action in the Big 12 tournament.

Was it all a smoke screen, this news that broke early Thursday morning about Konate being cleared to play in Kansas City?

“That’s above my pay grade,” West Virginia point guard Jordan McCabe said. “That’s for the front office.”

For a second straight day, Konate declined interviews from the media while sitting in the locker room following the game.

If it was some kind of diversion to give Texas Tech coaches something more to think about or prepare for, WVU players certainly liked the thought.

“I’m sure it gave them something more to worry about,” WVU forward Derek Culver said. “If that’s what it was, it was a good idea.”

Added West Virginia guard Chase Harler, who had a big smile for reporters taking pictures of Konate during warm-ups: “Sagaba is getting better and we’re excited that he’s here. He hasn’t played in a while, so I’m sure that maybe put a thought in Texas Tech’s mind.”

Still, Konate’s presence held importance for teammates.

“Our warm-up shirts say ‘Family’ on them,” McCabe said. “Sags is definitely a big part of our family. It was great to see him out there with us.”

Hilton South

Iowa State ended a three-game losing streak with its 83-66 victory against Baylor with freshman Talen Horton-Tucker finishing with 21 points.

The talk after the game was about the fan support for the Cyclones (21-11), who are traditionally one of the more supported teams in Kansas City, as Ames, Iowa is just a little more than three hours away.

“Yeah, until you really get here there is really nothing like it,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “ As a kid, you go to these conference tournaments and in college, you know, when I worked with a team in college you go to the conference tournaments, but until you come here and experience Iowa State basketball and Big 12 in Kansas City, it’s really unreal. It’s surreal.

“This is an 11:30 game on Thursday, so you can imagine what it’s going to be like [Friday] night at 6. It’s incredible.”

Slow start

What’s it like to be a No. 1 seed at the Big 12 tournament not named Kansas?

For Kansas State, which won a tiebreaker against Texas Tech for this year’s No. 1 seed, it meant falling behind by 12 early against TCU, before the Wildcats came back for a 70-61 win.

“We came out slow and lethargic and didn’t have the right energy and mindset to compete for 40 minutes,” said Kansas State guard Barry Brown, who finished with 12 points and six assists. “I feel like the first maybe 10, 12 minutes of the first half we kind of just coasted and thought that we just won a Big 12 championship maybe and  we were going to come in and win a game.

“I tried to express to the guys that it wasn’t going to be easy.”

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