Coming into the Big 12 tournament, a few questions had started to creep in for K-State. A 17-point loss to KU and a home loss to Iowa State will do that to a team and a fanbase. On top of that, a quarterfinal matchup with Oklahoma State, who beat the Cats in Bramlage this season, led many to wonder if K-State would enter next week's NCAA Tournament riding a three-game losing streak.
Those fears were quickly put to rest as the Wildcats put together what might have been their best 20 minutes of basketball in blistering Oklahoma State to the tune of 51-26 in the first half before cruising to an 83-64 victory. Jamar Samuels was the star of the day, going off for 27 points and 10 rebounds. For two years now, Panjandrum has told anyone who will listen that Samuels has the most potential of anyone on K-State's roster, and this weekend he really showed it off. His stat line against the Cowboys was ridiculous: 7-9 FG, 2-3 3FG, 11-14 FT. As Pan texted me at halftime, that's lottery pick good. Now, of course, comes the hard part, which is sustaining that level of play.
Friday brought a rematch of one of the best regular season games in the Big 12 as K-State met Baylor. The rematch was hardly a disappointment. Baylor got off to a good start behind LaceDarius Dunn and Ekpe Udoh, with a nice contribution from Josh Lomers. When the Bears pulled out to a nine-point lead, I started to wonder if we had gotten a little too content with the big win from the day before. But Jake Pullen hit three big three-pointers in the last four minutes of the first half and a jumper by Dominique Sutton helped get us to half down only one.
Sutton got the party started in the second half with a three-point play on a dunk over Lomers. That keyed a 10-2 run that put the Cats ahead by seven. The Bears were far from done, but each time the Bears regained the lead, K-State had an answer. While Samuels was the star against OSU, it was the backcourt that shined in this one, as Denis Clemente and Pullen combined for 50 points on the evening, a huge showing against a duo like Dunn and Tweety Carter. Sutton chipped in nicely with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Hit the jump for more!
K-State's win against Baylor set up the championship game Kansas City had been hoping for as the Wildcats would meet KU for the third time this season. The atmosphere did not disappoint, as the Sprint Center was filled to the brim with 19,003 basketball fans. As per form, K-State got off to a terrible start, clanging its first twelve field goal attempts and trailing 5-0 at the first media timeout. The Cats steadied themselves and gained the lead on a Jamar Samuels three-pointer at the 9:46 mark, but gave up the lead on KU's next possession and would never regain it.
As good as Pullen and Clemente were against Baylor, they were mediocre against KU, combining for only 30 points on 12-32 shooting. Pullen was 1-8 from three-point range. Samuels was on fire from three-point range, hitting 4-5, but was only 1-6 from inside the arc. Curtis Kelly was in foul trouble most of the game and wasn't much of a factor.
Now, with the recaps out of the way, read on for some random thoughts on the tournament in general.
--A title-game appearance is yet another sign of progress for Frank Martin's program. Prior to this year, we were winless in the conference tournament under Frank. Beating two good teams and giving the top seed a fairly tough game in the final was a good showing.
--LaceDarius Dunn is Baylor's engine. When he went out in the first half against Texas, the Bears floundered and it looked like Texas may be able to pull the upset. Alas, when Dunn returned in the second half, Baylor finished the Longhorns off for what has to be an agonizing third loss to Baylor this season for UT.
--Now that the Power & Light District is finished, Kansas City is an excellent host for the tournament. The KC Live! block and surrounding bars/restaurants are plenty large enough for even the biggest crowds, and there's nothing better than having a few $7 beers and then walking across the street for some great basketball. OK, the weather could have been better, but I was warm and dry underneath the canopy at the P&L.
--Even the Texas fans we ran into at Arthur Bryant's admitted that KC has some damn good BBQ. Maybe there is hope for the warring factions of BBQ fans around this country.
--The NCAA really needs to do something about players running onto the court when a timeout is called. KU is far from the only team that does this, but against Texas A&M in the semifinals, their bench nearly ran over Donald Sloan as he tried to walk back to his bench after Mark Turgeon called a timeout in the second half. Words were exchanged and the players had to be separated. This happens way too often.
--Crowd turnout for the Wednesday games was a little disappointing, and other than the K-State and KU games on Thursday, there were a lot of empty seats. I've always taken pride in KC's support for even the "other" games during the tournament, but that pride took a bit of a hit this year. Count me as one of those who is not a fan of the Wednesday start to the tournament. I'd like to be able to just take two days off from work so I could go see everything on Thursday and Friday, even if K-State isn't playing until Friday night. Taking off three days isn't really feasible, and I hate going from basketball back to work and then back to basketball. I think the Wednesday start affected the turnouts for some of the games.
--The only way KU won't win a national title three weeks from now is if the beaks beat themselves along the way. While it's frustrating to lose to them three times in one season, it's time to just admit that the team down the river is really freaking good right now. I looked back through the program at some of the earlier years in the Big 12, and I feel pretty confident that the team we have this season would have been good enough to win this conference in a lot of those years.
--One thing that sets KU apart is the looks their offense gets. The difference last night was striking. While our team played pretty well, a lot of the shots we hit are off the dribble or off cuts where getting squared up is difficult. KU's shooter are almost always squared up to the basket before they even catch the basketball, and as often as not are wide open.
--The transitive property played out nearly to perfection this season in K-State's three meetings with KU. In Manhattan, we had a chance to win in regulation and barely lost in overtime. In Lawrence, we were competitive into the second half before losing by double digits. On a neutral floor, the game was relatively close most of the way, but KU led most of the way and we never could make a run in the second half.
--Who wants one more chance at KU, this time in Indianapolis?