Kansas State had hoped to reverse its regular season fortune by finally beating KU, taking home a Big 12 tournament championship and shot at a #2 seed in the process. Instead, the Wildcats returned home after suffering its third straight loss to Kansas this year, falling 70-54 in Kansas City.
The Wildcats struggled to find consistency in the first half while overlooking holes that developed in KU’s defense while swarming to the ball handler. The basketball often drew four defenders to one side of the court, but the offense failed to establish/find open players when this scenario developed. After a season of lauding Bruce Weber’s motion offense approach of “pass, pass, pass, shoot,” the approach left fans begging for set plays. The Wildcats finished with a season worst 16 points in the first half.
K-State also had one of its worst shooting halves all year en route to 16 points. The team completed only six of 27 shots for 22.2 percent shooting. It also committed a highly uncharacteristic eight turnovers – a number this squad typically sees at the end of the game. Rodney McGruder and Shane Southwell led the Wildcats with four points apiece at the half. Four.
The sloppy play of the first half was just as evident in the second. However, K-State managed to turn steals into points and scored the first five points of the period to pull within 24-21. However, Jeff Withey continued making life difficult for K-State. Withey made both free throws on one possession, and Henriguez fouled Withey on the next to allow KU to extend the lead. KU exploited the help defense of K-State with the tandem of Withey and Kevin Young all night. When one would get the ball under the basket, they would typically pull K-State’s defenders away from the other, leading to easy assists.
The Jayhawks went more than seven minutes before collecting their first foul in the second half and K-State had already collected six. The foul differential made the crowd on hand unhappy, as the announcers tried a little too hard to express their confidence in the officiating after two instances in which they verbally observed KU got away with missed calls – one that sent Henriquez to the bench for fouling Withey on a shot after Withey shoved Henriquez to collect a rebound.
The Wildcats started shooting better as the game wore on, but failed to get stops in the second half. Kansas shot 55.2 percent in the second half as fast break points, mental lapses, and sheer athleticism were on display that K-State struggled to limit. In addition, the Jayhawks recorded six blocks on the night by six different players as K-State failed to successfully penetrate the lane like it did against Oklahoma State. The most positive aspect of the second half was K-State only turned the ball over once after giving it up eight times in the first half. However, the Wildcats were out-rebounded (35-29), had half as many assists (17-8), and hit only 25 percent of their threes (6-24) while the Jayhawks knocked down an even 50 percent (7-14).
Rodney McGruder led all scorers with 18 points, and Angel Rodiriguez had 10. Will Spradling had zero points for the second night in a row on two shots, one from deep downtown. Once again he lasted fewer than 20 minutes and is obviously still battling a bruised sternum. He will undoubtedly enjoy the rest the next six days will offer. In his place, Martavious Irving saw 31 minutes of action and netted five points on two-of-nine shooting. Withey scored 17 for the Jayhawks and pulled down nine rebounds. The senior forward found himself attempting ten free throws, knocking down seven of them. Perry Ellis came off the bench to contribute 12 points on just six shots in 14 minutes for KU.
K-State was a dark horse contender for a #2 seed, and a #3 seed was likely with a win tonight. As the #11 ranked team in the media polls and #16 in the RPI, the Wildcats will likely be looking at a #4 seed – but the hope of playing their first two rounds in Kansas City where they defeated #5 Florida earlier this season have largely evaporated. Now there’s nothing left to do but what for the selection committee to make its determination tomorrow night.