Make no mistake about it: This was almost a terrible loss for Bruce Weber’s K-State Wildcats.
It would have been bad because of the way the game started—with K-State clearly the much better team for the first 16 minutes of game time, only to squander all of a 17-point lead and be down 8 in the second half. It would have been bad because (again) the team could not find the basket from outside and got semi-silent performances for long stretches from Xavier Sneed and Dean Wade.
Most of all, it would have been bad because this Washington State Cougar team is simply awful. They have double digit losses on their resume to less-than-stellar U.C. Davis and dreadful UTEP, a team that currently sports a 3-7 record and was abandoned by Tim Floyd five games into the season. Idaho beat the Cougars 91-64. Idaho. So yes, even in a quasi-road game, this would have been a bad loss.
To the credit of the guys—especially Barry Brown and Dean Wade—they refused to let it happen. Riding aggressive offensive drives by Brown, timely defense and rebounding, and assertive post maneuvers late by Wade, they found a way to win. It was not artistry. But it showed serious grit. Fortunately, that was just good enough to pull out a 68-65 victory.
Brown led the ‘Cats with 23 points on 8-17 (1-5) shooting. Makol Mawien continued his mini-surge to contribute 15 points, 9 rebounds and two important blocks. Kamau Stokes left the game briefly with an apparent knee injury, but returned for the last eight minutes. He and Wade scored nine each. Ahmad Wainright was solid off the bench, scoring 7, while securing three rebounds and a steal.
Carter Skaggs, who averages 6.9 points per game, scored 24 off the Washington State bench. For a long stretch beginning late in the first half, he was pitching basketballs into rims that must have looked like swimming pools. He cooled off later, finishing 9-14 (6-10 from outside). Malachi Flynn scored 23 for the Cougars, but on 8-for-20 shooting.
Some relevant notes:
- K-State out-rebounded Wazzu 43-37, and they did it with balanced team rebounding. That is big news and a sign of needed progress.
- After sharing the ball for 10 assists in the first half, the ‘Cats tossed only two in the second.
- K-State shot a paltry 16.7% (4-24) from three-point range. That’s two consecutive forgettable shooting nights in arena-style venues. Let’s hope that comparatively rare anomaly is the culprit, anyway.
- The ‘Cats outscored the Cougars by eight at the free throw line (14 to 6), and took ten more attempts (19 to 9).
- Sneed was an enigma. His only field goal on a 1-for-8 night was an athletic dunk off a set play lob from Stokes.
- Mawien got nearly all of the minutes in the post, with only Sallah coming off the bench to spell him briefly.
So...deep breath. Bruce and the guys conclude the pre-conference schedule at 10-2. They have a game against Georgia on January 27 to complete their non-conference story. Until then, league play will occupy them, beginning against Iowa State in Ames next Friday at 8:00. Playing there when the students are home for Winter vacation may be a break for the Wildcats.