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Kabongo gives Texas different look against Kansas State

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Feb. 22, 2013, at 2:01 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at 7:29 a.m.

No. 13 Kansas State at Texas

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Erwin Center, Austin

Records: KSU 21-5, 10-3 Big 12; UT 12-14, 4-9

Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM

TV: Longhorn Network

No. 13 Kansas State at Texas

PKansas State HtYrPtsReb
FShane Southwell6-6Jr.8.13.7
FJordan Henriquez6-11Sr.4.74.6
GRodney McGruder6-4Sr.14.85.3
GWill Spradling6-2Jr.8.72.8
GAngel Rodriguez5-11So.10.7x-4.9

Kansas State (21-5, 10-3): The Wildcats have won back-to-back games by wide margins despite McGruder staying quiet on offense. The senior guard has deferred to his teammates, and K-State has won with balance. That may have to change on the road against a talented backcourt. Rodriguez ended a lengthy streak of games in which he avoided mistakes by losing six turnovers against West Virginia. He said they were silly and he thinks he has already learned from them. Bruce Weber expects Henriquez to play against Texas, but he has been in New York most of the week following the death of his grandmother. There is a chance weather or flight delays could prevent him from reaching Austin.

PTexasHtYrPtsReb
FIoannis Papapetrou6-8Fr.8.54.5
FJonathan Holmes6-7So.7.16.7
GSheldon McClellan6-4So.13.64.2
GJulien Lewis6-3So.10.53.3
GMyck Kabongo6-1So.12.72.7

x-assists

Texas (12-14, 4-9): The Longhorns are better at home than they are on the road. Texas owns victories over North Carolina and Iowa State at home, and also led Kansas for most of the second half at home. It is a much different team with Kabongo back at point guard, but it is still a flawed team. The Longhorns have been inconsistent all season and make 40 percent of their shots. McClellan leads the team in scoring, but coach Rick Barnes has criticized him for poor play in big games. Papapetrou is one of the best young forwards in the Big 12 and has played well recently.

RPIs as of Friday: K-State 19, Texas 128.

— By name, it’s a rematch. In reality, it’s a brand-new challenge.

When No. 13 Kansas State faces Texas on Saturday at the Erwin Center, things will be much different than they were a month ago when the Wildcats pummeled the Longhorns 83-57 at Bramlage Coliseum.

The biggest difference: Myck Kabongo.

The sophomore Texas point guard missed that blowout while serving a 23-game suspension for violating NCAA rules, and the Longhorns were unable to live up to preseason expectations without him. Instead of contending for a 15th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and fighting for a top-half finish in the Big 12, they are suffering through their worst season under longtime coach Rick Barnes.

At 12-14, the only thing that could get them back to the NCAA Tournament is a Big 12 Tournament championship. It’s a long shot, but there is at least a glimmer of hope within the Texas program that such a run is possible, especially if they start building momentum now.

“Everybody struggles at some point in time. Kansas struggled a week ago. Kentucky has struggled. That is just part of it,” Barnes said earlier this week. “We can’t worry about what has happened in the past. We can only worry about what is in front of us … It’s never over until it’s over.”

With Kabongo back, spirits have improved. After all, he was the main reason optimism surrounded the team in preseason practices.

“Texas was a great fastbreak team before Kabongo,” K-State guard Shane Southwell said. “That is always their best offense. Kabongo only boosts that. He likes to get out and get into the fastbreak. He’s he a great point guard, he’s their leader. Any team is going to be better with him on the court.”

Kabongo was one of the best young players in the country his first year on campus, averaging 9.6 points and 5.2 assists while helping the Longhorns win 20 games. He has also made a positive impact as a sophomore. Texas has won two of three since Kabongo’s return, though the 73-47 lossat Kansas was a real clunker.

Still, the Wildcats are expecting a more difficult challenge this time around.

“They are a lot stronger, because Kabongo pushes the ball and he gets to spots where he can help his teammates,” senior guard Rodney McGruder said. “He sucks you in so he can kick the ball out and hit the open man. It’s a different game, but you have to go in with the same mindset, which is confidence going in and being ready to compete. You know the things that Kabongo is good at, you just have to keep him uncomfortable.”

Perhaps the biggest change in Texas is that it now has two players capable of distributing the ball. Freshman Javan Felix showed flashes of brilliance before Kabongo re-joined the team, averaging 7.8 points and five assists.

Now that he is in the same backcourt as Kabongo, the Longhorns are deeper and more versatile. A good example came in Kabongo’s first game back against Iowa State. He fouled out late, but a more rested Felix was able to take charge in overtime and help Texas win.

“It is going to be a harder game, because they have two really good point guards,” Southwell said. “In the Big 12, that is hard to find. Felix is good. I don’t want anyone to think he was just the understudy until Kabongo came back. We are going to have to use the way we played and the energy we used last game if we want to win on the road.”

K-State was motivated in the first game. The Wildcats were coming off back-to-back losses and badly needed something to get them back in the mix for a Big 12 championship.

Motivation won’t be a concern in the rematch, with K-State tied with Kansas atop the standings. But Kabongo makes it a different challenge.

“It’s a huge game for us just to stay in the race,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “It’s a winnable game, but it’s not an easy game. You’re going to have to go win it. That is what I just told them. That has got to be their mindset. Fight and scrape and find a way to win.”

Finding the Longhorn Network — K-State’s game at Texas will be televised on the Longhorn Network, which is not available on DirecTV or Dish Network. It’s on Cox Cable (channel 272) and AT&T U-Verse (channel 609).

The game is on Texas’ network because it was not chosen by ESPN as a national broadcast or by the Big 12 Network as a regional broadcast last summer. All TV revenue from the game will go to Texas.

In the past, football games shown on the Longhorn Network have also been carried by a TV platform of the visiting team’s choosing, but that does not occur in basketball. Texas Tech and TCU also played on the Longhorn Network when they visited Texas earlier this season.

Check Kellis Robinett’s K-Stated blog at blogs.kansas.com/kstated. Reach him at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com.

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