(Someday, things will get back to normal around here...)
After a bitterly disappointing home loss to Oklahoma State, the jury was out on how K-State would respond with a road trip to Baylor and Saturday's showdown with KU looming. The result was a resounding success, as the Wildcats knocked off No. 24 Baylor, 76-74, at the Golden Nipple in the prettiest little town on I-35. The Okie State loss triggered a lot of doubt among the faithful, even prompting me to kick off the Open Thread with this little gem:
…but this has "road ambush" written all over it. Hope I’m wrong.
So first, let me say this to Frank Martin, Jacob Pullen, and all the other Wildcats: I will never again doubt your moxie, your composure, or your toughness. On second thought, maybe I should continue to doubt this team, as they seem to thrive on the doubt of others. Anyway, click the jump for a few untimely thoughts on this one as we get ready for KU in Manhattan tomorrow.
What I liked:
Jake finding his shot. It was huge for this team to have Pullen bounce back in a big way after disappointing outings against Texas and Oklahoma State. Pullen, who drew the assignment of guarding Baylor sharpshooter LaceDarius Dunn most of the night, evidently was intent on paying him back for his nine three-pointer bombshell in Manhattan last year. Pullen made six three pointers of his own on his way to 25 points. Even bigger, he coolly dropped two free throws with about seven seconds left in front of the, uhh, Bear Pit to give K-State its final margin of victory.
More of the same from McGruber: It's becoming a pattern to look at the stat sheet and see "McGruder: 10" these days. For what seems like the fifth game in a row, McGruder had a very efficient 10 points (4/5 shooting, 2/3 3FG).
A better plan for attacking the zone: I know that Curtis Kitchen disagrees with me, and it's generally quite unwise to disagree with Kitchen regarding basketball, but I thought K-State's plan for attacking Baylor's 2-3 zone was much better than what we saw against Oklahoma State. Granted, as Kitchen points out, a hot shooting night will solve a lot of problems. But the way those shots materialize matters. Against Oklahoma State, a lot of our deep shots seemed to come off passes from the top of the key. In other words, the shooter had to catch the ball from the side, turn, square up, and shoot. Contrast that with Tuesday, when most of the passes that set up the threes came from the free throw line. When the pass comes from there, it's easier for the shooter to square up. Add in the fact that K-State's frontcourt was able to knock down some jumpers from the free throw line, and you had a perfect recipe for some open, squared-up looks.
Outrebounding Baylor. That's all that needs to be said. We were the first team to outrebound the Bears all season.
A cold shooting night by Dunn. The credit goes mostly to Pullen for harrassing Dunn all night, but it definitely helped that Dunn didn't knock down the few open looks he got.
What I didn't like:
More uneven play by Clemente. This may be a controvesial one. There can be no doubt Denis Clemente brings a lot to this team, and is one of those players who can change a game if he is hot. But there are times when I want to throw the remote through the TV screen as I yell "NO GODDAMMIT DENIS DON'T DO THAT!" He scored 17 points on Tuesday, but it took him 17 shots to do so. Contrast that with Pullen, who got 25 on 11 shots. Right now, it's my opinion that we need a little more "2009 non-conference season Denis" and a little less "trying to recreate the 44-point game Denis."
Jamar Samuels' disappearance. At least he grabbed eight rebounds in his 19 minutes. I'm not sure if there's something wrong with Samuels, or it's just one of those little funks that have a tendency to happen, but he didn't do much against Okie State, either, after his monster outing against Texas. We'll need him to get back on track soon.
Ditto Dominique Sutton. When Dom is being Dom, he's locking down the other team's best offensive threat, hanging out around the rim to get some garbage buckets, and taking the ball to the hoop if his defender goes to sleep. Lately, however, he's been good for a quick two fouls in the first half, followed by a lot of frustration and not a lot of minutes the rest of the way. He's also developed a bewildering case of the yips on his layups. Sutton is another guy who is vital to this team's success, so let's hope he snaps out of this funk soon.
What it means and where we're going...
While I'm hesitant to say that we're right back in the thick of things as far as the conference race goes, the win in Waco means we're not completely out of the race yet. A loss there would have been our third conference loss, meaning we would have needed to win out -- including the game in Lawrence -- to even have a chance. As it stands, we're going to have to put together one helluva run to get there, but the way this team has played against Texas and Baylor shows it can be done.
Of course, that brings us to Saturday's tilt with KU. Picking up this game would put us firmly in the picture for the regular season title. The beaks appear to be hitting their stride right now, blowing out Iowa State last Saturday and making Missouri look a little silly on Big Monday. Cole Aldrich seems to be finding his game, and Marcus Morris (is he Thing 1 or Thing 2?) is becoming a big threat down low. Couple that with Sherron Collins outside and all the other players they have that can do a bunch of little things to kill you, and, well, you have a pretty damn good basketball team.
The Octagon's gonna be rockin'. Can't wait.