In a rugged game filled with runs and lead changes, Kansas State’s final run was enough to overcome the Baylor Bears, 70-63, Saturday in Waco. With the win, the Wildcats become the first Big 12 team to reach eight conference wins, and they open a one and one-half game lead on the rest of the Big 12 with eight league games left to play.
K-State (18-5, 8-2 Big 12) rode a strong first half performance by Xavier Sneed and a strong second half from Cartier Diarra to weather a spirited effort by the Baylor Bears (15-8, 7-4).
Baylor was without the services of shooting wizard Makai Mason and junior guard King McClure. At various times the Bears had three freshmen on the floor, but they played confident basketball and made it difficult for the Wildcats to play offense in the paint. The referees were stingy with the whistles, and Baylor took advantage, bringing an aggressive, physical style to the game.
Baylor started fast and led 21-16 a little under eight minutes to play in the first half, but K-State established the pace it wanted, finished the half on a 15-8 run, and went to the break with 31-29 lead. Both Barry Brown and Dean Wade were quiet in the first half, with 3 points and 4 points, respectively, but Xavier Sneed contributed 9, Stokes scored 7, and Mawien had a hard-earned 6 before halftime.
Out of the break, K-State hit only 1 of its first 9 shots, and Baylor took advantage with transition buckets for forge ahead, 36-33. The Bears would eventually lead 48-41 just past the midpoint of the second half, but K-State allowed them only five points over the next 6:20 while the ‘Cats scored 21 to take a 62-53 advantage with 3:20 to play. Baylor cut the lead to 68-63 late, but two free throws by Diarra sealed the win for K-State.
The game was even, in many respects. It was tied for over eight minutes of action and featured nine lead changes. Baylor committed 13 turnovers, while K-State had 11. K-State won the rebounding battle 33-32. Both teams had five steals. Two unexpected proficiencies led Coach Weber’s team to victory: The ‘Cats made 9 of 26 three-point attempts (35%) to the Bears’ 6-24 (25%). More significantly (and unexpectedly, given recent results), K-State connected on 15 of 17 free throw attempts (88%), which was key to closing out the win.
Kamau Stokes led the Wildcats with 20 points. He was joined in double-figures by Barry Brown (13), Dean Wade (12) and Cartier Diarra (10). After scoring nine in the first half, Sneed was held scoreless after the break.
K-State had 17 assists on 23 field goals, with Brown distributing six and Stokes and Diarra having four apiece. Team rebounding was the theme, with Wade and Mawien each grabbing 7, Stokes 6 and all of the starters corralling at least three.
Baylor was led in scoring by spot starter Devonte Bandoo, who had 15. Jared Butler and Freddie Gillespie pitched in 13 apiece.
What we Learned
- K-State’s physicality and experience can wear teams down. For a team that plays zone, Baylor brought an aggressive, physical style to the game. At one point, the Bears’ Mark Vital even tackled Kamau Stokes along the sideline, into what the referees determined was a traveling violation. The Bears challenged shots to the tune of seven blocks and pestered rebounders, making outlet passes difficult. In the end, though, K-State’s pressure man-to-man forced the Bears into difficult shots and created offensive opportunities for the ‘Cats. Although the turnover battle was relatively even, K-State outscored the Bears in points off those turnovers by a 19-9 margin.
- Cartier Diarra has found the confidence that he appeared to lack through most of the early season. In the follow-up to his breakout, windmill dunk-punctuated performance against KU in Bramlage, Diarra made two crucial three-pointers as the Wildcats first clawed back from behind and then extended their lead late in the game. He also made the game’s most impressive pass, as he was falling out of bounds saving a ball on the baseline, but tossed the ball ahead of Barry Brown at the half-court line, leading to an uncontested dunk. With Diarra and Sneed contributing, the pressure on Wade and Brown is not so overwhelming. The offense has looked better since Dean’s health has improved. If Stokes can keep the stroke he showed today and the rest of the supporting cast contributes, the offense could become (dare we hope?) efficient. If that happens, given the team’s defensive prowess, K-State will be tough for anyone in the Big 12 to catch. Speaking of which...
- Today’s win was the Wildcats’ eighth straight in conference play, equaling a streak that had not been accomplished at K-State since 1974, a season in which they won 11 straight. Earlier this week, we asked whether Bruce and the Boys could handle prosperity. The answer, at least for one game, is an emphatic “Yes.” Not only do the Wildcats now enjoy a 1 1⁄2 game lead over everyone else in the Big 12, but—like it or not—they should find themselves ranked when the polls come out on Monday. Then, a new test of their resolve in the face of admiration will begin.
The ‘Cats hit the road to attempt vengeance for their home loss against the Texas Longhorns Tuesday at 8:00. The game fortunately airs on ESPN2, rather than the Longhorn Network, so we’ll actually get to watch.