A lot has happened since the last time I wrote a Postgame Reaction post. The Wildcats won four games. RPT declared war on Canada (my favorite: Canada suffers worst setback since Nickelback). Canadians celebrated a gold medal about like I would expect them to, and were chastised by a bunch of stuffed suits for it. Rick Barnes called his players selfish. Barking Carnival made more unfounded statements about Bill Snyder and K-State. I took the Kansas bar exam.
OK, back on point. I'm going to forego the usual format of my postgame recaps, because with four games and a failing memory, it really wouldn't work very well for me to try and list specific and insightful tidbits about each game.
Almost two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend my second game at the Octagon this season when K-State defeated Colorado, 68-51. After a sickening first half that saw K-State leading by only two points, I meandered down to the first row and chatted with Curtis Kitchen for a couple minutes. He commented that he was more awake than the players at that point (context: he was very tired because from following his Facebook page I find it hard to believe that he ever sleeps). After the game, Frank commented that he had tried to introduce a new zone offense in the first half, and stuck with it the entire half despite the fact that it clearly wasn't working.
I'm quite inclined to believe him, because in the second half, K-State used an early run to put the Buffaloes away. Interestingly, K-State's victory was predicated more on stifling defense than an especially potent offense. No player scored more than 15 points for the Wildcats, but given that CU could only manage 51 points for the game, on 38.8 percent shooting (30 percent 3FG), what we had was more than enough. It will become a theme throughout this post, but it's encouraging to look at this team in a game like this and think "they really did not play well at all" and then realize they still won by 17.
Hit the jump for the rest of the recaps.
Last Tuesday, the Cats stayed in Manhattan to welcome woeful Nebraska. I say woeful becaue it's hard to say anything else about a team that is 1-10 in conference play, but on this particular night, the Huskers looked like they were throwing the ball into a hoop as big as the ocean. When it was over, I felt exceptionally fortunate to see K-State scratch out a 91-87 victory. For the evening, Nebraska shot 58.8 percent (66.6 percent 3FG!), and scored 87 points. To add some perspective to those numbers, the Huskers make shots at about a 44 percent clip on the season (a shade under 40 percent 3FG), and had not scored more than 72 points in a game in Big 12 play.
On this night, Nebraska made open shots, they made contested shots, and they made some downright ridiculous shots (see, e.g., Ryan Anderson). Kitchen called K-State's defense "lackluster-to-bad" in his postgame column, which shows how much more he knows about basketball than I. For the most part, I thought our defense was decent. Not good, not great, but not bad.
After what seemed like a completely disastrous first half, K-State was down a mere point. As I mentioned a couple times in the game thread, the odds were stacked highly against Nebraska shooting the ball that well for another 20 minutes. So of course, the Huskers came out firing and had K-State down double digits with way less time than I wanted to see on the clock. However, the Cats dug deep in front of a disappointingly small and palpably nervous home crowd to erase the deficit. Nebraska coach Doc Sadler helped out with an untimely technical foul.
We didn't talk individual performances in the CU game because nobody had a particularly standout game, but against Nebraska, Dominique Sutton was the star of the show. He hit three three-pointers in the game, which wouldn't seem so amazing except his total three-pointers for the season was also three after the game. As has been the case all season, the defenders sagged off him, daring him to shoot, only this time he made them pay. Sutton made 2-of-4 from inside the arc and hit 8-of-10 free throws for good measure. It's one of those performances that, if it makes regular appearances the rest of the season, makes K-State significantly better on the offensive end. Want to take away Sutton's shooting? We know he can drive to the hoop. Want to sag off Pullen or Clemente to help out if he drives? Yeah, that's not a good idea. You better not leave Jamar Samuels straight up on somebody. Put simply, if Sutton's man has to play him straight-up, it opens up the floor, giving all the other players more room to maneuver.
With those two games done, the home portion of the four-game stretch was over. At this point, I took a deep breath in anticipation of what was to come, as I think a lot of my fellow Wildcat fans did. Despite OU's and Tech's obvious struggles this season, road trips are never a given in the Big 12, and so it was with much trepidation that I anticipated last Saturday's game in Norman.
We needn't have fretted so much, as the Cats put in a workmanlike effort to take a relatively easy 83-68 win. Even without Willie Warren, OU has some serious talent, and I was impressed with Tommy Mason-Griffin. The short guy — calling him little would be an insult, as he's built like a brick shithouse — from Houston has a lot of game. It's hard to imagine how much better he would be if he wasn't in a situation that makes Texas look like a well-oiled machine. Anyway, Griffin and Tiny Gallon kept the Sooners in the game for a while, but in the second half it was all Wildcats.
Specifically, it was all Denis Clemente. It should say something about the tear Clemente is on that I now rarely experience the "no Denis, NO!" moments before he shoots. When you hit 11-of-18 (5-of-9 3FG) for 27 points, you'll have that effect. For a while in this game, I was reminded of a wonderful Saturday afternoon I spent at the Drum with mystman995 a little more than a year ago. He didn't get to 44 points in this one, but the damage was done nonetheless.
Finally, the string of games ended in a surprisingly large town out in the absolute middle of nowhere last Tuesday. It was the kind of game you fear. Tuesday night, remote locale, non-name opponent, tiny crowd...ahh, the makings of a sleepwalk. Only this time, the alarm went off and the team sprung out of bed, ready to attack the Red Raiders. It showed, as K-State led by 10 at halftime and would add another nine points to that cushion before it was over. It was, almost without a doubt, the easiest 19-point victory I've ever seen. The lead changed exactly once in this game, as K-State posted an 83-64 victory.
This time, Jacob Pullen took the Superman cape from Clemente and posted 28 points. It was obvious he took Clemente's magic, too, as the senior from Puerto Rico took as many shots as the junior from Chicago and yet scored half as many points. Seriously, if we could ever get these guys to both be insanely hot on the same night, how many would we win by?
For the entire four-game stretch, a couple other players deserve some accolades. We've already talked about Sutton a little bit, but he added to his 21-point outburst against Nebraska by tallying 11 against Oklahoma, though he could only manage four against Tech. Jamar Samuels provided 12, 7, 12 and 14 points, which is exactly what we need off the bench. Curtis Kelly is turning into a much more reliable player, scoring in double digits in each game (12, 11, 12, 14). Finally, and I'll be getting into this a bit more in an upcoming post, but I have to give a hand to Luis Colon. He scored 23 points in those four games, and we'll be more than happy to get five points per game out of Sweet Lu. We don't want him to force things, but if he can capitalize on situations when he has position down low, it opens up the floor still further (see, supra, Sutton, Dominique).
What it means and where we're going
A stretch like this represents yet another milestone for this program. In year's past, we could have been assured that we'd overlook at least one of these opponents and hurt our tournament chances/seeding with a bad loss. This time, despite some hiccups, we took care of business and went 4-0.
As all of you know, the Unholy Alliance has been suspended in advance of tomorrow's showdown with Mizzou. Pan and I will be in the house, so if you're in Aggieville prepping for the game, keep an eye out for us. Last time we met with Missouri, a hard-fought game ensued that probably took a year off all of our lives (OK, two years for mystman). If relevant history is any indication, K-State at -6 should be a very good bet. Last year, K-State ran off a team that was playing on the final day of the NCAA Tournament's second weekend by a final of 88-72, and in the process incited an impressive DeArmond meltdown. The Cats are much improved over last season, and Missouri has taken a slight step backward, which would lead you to believe the probabilities are in our favor, and perhaps even pretty strongly. Of course, basketball games are 40-minute contests where anything can happen, and any gap that may exist between K-State and Mizzou is pretty narrow indeed. We will have to play very well to win this game, but I think we will see an effort out of this team that is rivaled only by what we saw back in January when that team from down the river was in town.
This game has other implications, too. A win would almost assure us the two seed in Kansas City. Practically, there's little difference between being the two or the three, as neither has to face the one seed until the finals, if at all. From a prestige perspective however, being the two seed is another indication of progress for this basketball program.
Now of course, if KU somehow loses in Stillwater, tomorrow, then all bets are off. But I'll wait until that actually happens before I spend time talking about it.