Do you dare to believe, Wildcat fans?
No. 18 Kansas State has been serving notice of its championship aspirations on the Big 12 Conference for more than a month now, and the Wildcats used balanced and diverse scoring, along with lock-down second half defense, to defeat the Texas Longhorns, 71-64, in Austin, Texas, and keep the momentum going Tuesday night.
The win was the ninth straight in conference play for K-State (19-5, 9-2 Big 12) and kept the Wildcats two games ahead of pursuers Texas Tech, Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas in the loss column of the conference standings. Texas (14-11, 6-6), meanwhile, finds itself mired in sixth place, despite its recent surge.
Considering the defensive intensity of both squads, this game never promised to be a work of art. But scoring proved easier than expected in the first half, as Texas shot 15-27 from the field (55.6 percent), and K-State managed 15-28 (53.6 percent). The Longhorns did it mostly by getting to the rim, as they scored 24 in the paint and went 7 for 12 at the free throw line. K-State’s aggressive man-to-man defense struggled to stay in front of Kerwin Roach, II, who scored 14 points in the first half.
The Wildcats kept the game close by hitting 4 of their 7 three-point attempts and by getting a handful of dunks from Dean Wade and Makol Mawien after breaking perimeter pressure. But Texas still led 39-35 at the break.
During one time-out, ESPN2 cameras crowded in next to UT “Minister of Culture” Matthew McConaughey’s burnt orange Lloyd Christmas suit to overhear Shaka Smart telling his team not to over-respect K-State, a team that Texas was “better than.” Strange advice, which his guys may have heeded in a way he did not intend.
As Bruce Weber and his staff have done throughout the winning streak, they made halftime adjustments and reeled Texas in. Mixing in alternating possessions of 2-3 zone helped seal off driving lanes and at least partly curbed what was, at one time, a 15-5 foul disparity. It also confused the Longhorns into some turnovers that led to fastbreak opportunities.
The Wildcats took their first lead with 18:06 to play, and though the Longhorns would regain the advantage at 47-45 at the 15:40 mark, they would not enjoy the upper hand for long.
Barry Brown drove down the left side of the lane and drew a rare shooting foul. He tied the game with two free throws. On the next possession, he stole the ball from Jericho Sims and made one of his trademark body-control layups to give Kansas State a lead it would not relinquish over the last 14:52 of the game.
K-State won by locking down on defense, but also by taking advantage of the offensive looks it could find. Scoring came at the rim (30 points in the paint) from 3-point range (8-17, 47.1%) and from the forgotten middle space of the floor (10 points on mid-range jumpers). The Wildcats were 7-of-12 from the free throw line, with most of those attempts coming late, when Texas was trying to extend the game. Even with the length of Sims and Jaxson Hayes, Texas only managed two blocked shots on the night. Credit K-State’s solid offensive execution and shot selection for neutralizing that UT athletic advantage.
The Longhorns, meanwhile, hung around by getting 26 free throw attempts and connecting on 18 of them. They managed only six field goal in the entire second half, on only 20 shots.
For the game, K-State shot 54.9 percent from the field (28-51), while they limited the ‘Horns to a chilly 30% (6-20) in the second half, dropping their percentage to 44.7 (21-47) for the game.
Being offensively diverse playing through all five players allowed K-State’s entire starting lineup to reach double-figure scoring. Barry Brown, Jr. and Xavier Sneed each scored 16. Sneed led the ‘Cats with eight rebounds. Dean Wade shot only 6-for-13, for 12 points, but added five rebounds and led the team with six assists. Kamau Stokes and Makol Mawien added 11 each, with Mike McGuirl scoring the remaining five points.
A hallmark of the Wildcats’ recent run has been sharing the basketball, and tonight they continued the trend, tossing 17 assists on their 28 field goals.
Kerwin Roach, II was limited to three second half points, but still led the Longhorns with 17. Courtney Ramey was the only other double-figure scorer for Texas, with 10.
What we Learned
- The fun continues. And it does because the experience and poise of these Wildcats keeps them from getting rattled, even when K-State fans are losing their minds. Texas actually had the largest lead of this game—39-31—with under two minutes to play in the first half. Coach Weber did not wait until halftime, but called a time-out to stem the burnt orange tide. It was well spent. K-State got a Stokes lay-up off a set play, a defensive stop, and a mid-range jumper from Brown to narrow the deficit to four before the break. After the staff made halftime adjustments, it did not take long out of the locker room for the Wildcats to forge a lead, and their calm execution helped them keep control of the game, despite Shaka Smart’s efforts to push the right buttons to beat a team that he believed his squad was “better than.”
- For the second straight game, K-State won against a potential NCAA tournament team, on the road, with something less than its A-game. The Wildcats beat the Longhorns in nearly every statistical category in the second half. But at times in the first half, the length and athleticism of Texas appeared poised to overwhelm Bruce’s guys. Upper class poise, adjustments, better attention to detail, wearing down the opposition—whatever it was—the ‘Cats never panicked, played better basketball down the stretch, and kept the five-week juggernaut in league play marching on.
- Gut check, part one is behind us now, and the team passed. It may not have been artful, but Texas was favored by three in this game, and K-State found a way to win, even without the services of Cartier Diarra, who would have been a nice piece to counter the quickness and length of the Texas guards. It was a revenge game, and the ‘Cats had their vengeance. Now, the Iowa State Cyclones come to Manhattan, looking for their own recompense after the 58-57 upset K-State dealt them in Ames exactly one month ago. The Cyclones are a gifted offensive team, and the talking heads love them. Cameron Lard did not play in the first contest, so Iowa State fans must view the rematch in much the same way that K-State fans saw tonight’s game against Texas, a team that stomped the ‘Cats when Wade and Stokes could not play in the league opener. A win for K-State over ISU would be its tenth straight in league play and would appear to make the Wildcats serious (if not prohibitive) favorites to win at least a share of the Big 12 Title. It would give the them virtually all the tie-breakers for conference tournament seeding, too. So far, none of the moments have been too big for Barry, Dean, Kam and their supporting cast. But Saturday at 3:00, Bramlage Coliseum will certainly experience another big moment.
- Bonus lesson: Never giving up is not only an in-game thing. It also matters over the course of a season. Consider this: Texas throttled K-State by 20 in the league opener. In their next game, at Texas Tech, the Wildcats failed to make a field goal for over 10 minutes after the opening tip and had only 3 points before a Diarra lay-up at the 9:13 mark. They came back in the second half but lost by six, to start 0-2 in league play. In their next game, the ‘Cats got down by 21 to what has turned out to be a very poor West Virginia team, and it looked as if K-State would have far and away the most disappointing season in all of college basketball. Then, it all turned around. The Wildcats lead the most balanced conference in the country. What kind of ridiculous odds would Vegas have placed on that possibility at halftime of the West Virginia game? Row the boat, chop the wood—apply whatever cliche you want. It may seem like a miracle, but really, the surprising turnaround is the result of nothing more than the unshakable faith and resolve of these players and this staff, and of their hard work and dedication to achieving their common goals. Though the job is not finished, all deserve congratulations for their efforts to avert what once appeared an all but certain disaster already in progress.