The sweaty security guard puts on a brave face. Deep breath. It’ll be over soon.
He walks up to the teeth of the roaring student section with an earpiece and a necktie and a name tag when the building is rocking and the hated Jayhawks are wobbling. He tries to look the part, at least, even if he and everyone else here knew exactly what was about to happen.
Here it comes. Three two one Kansas State’s 85-82 overtime win Monday over No. 7 Kansas is complete, just the program’s fourth win in 52 tries. This is the kind of moment that can help define a season, and there is no better way for a basketball coach to win hearts and minds here than to beat the Jayhawks.
So the security guard and everyone else knew exactly how this would go. The buzzer sounds, and to the young man’s credit, he sort of puts his arms down and lets everyone go by — sort of like KU had been doing on defense most of the night, actually.
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And then, within a minute, maybe two, the security guards had not only accepted that their court was being rushed but a few even offered to take photos of smiling fans — making sure to get the score in the frame, of course. When coach Bruce Weber came back out for his postgame radio interview, the fans here chanted his name.
“We deserved to win tonight,” Weber said.
Even after winning a share of the program’s first conference championship since 1977 last year, Weber hasn’t exactly been embraced by fans. They know what happened at Illinois, and when Frank Martin was here, there was a feeling of excitement and stardom and national attention that can be intoxicating. Martin was a coaching star, at least for a few years. Weber looks more like a guy you meet at parent-teacher conferences.
But now, Weber’s program has beaten Texas and Kansas — the top two teams in the league — within three days. He has the Big 12’s hottest freshman, Marcus Foster, who scored a game-high 20 points and now has 77 points on just 42 shots over the last three games.
Mostly considered a bubble team at best before the season — who can forget the opening loss to Northern Colorado at home — the Wildcats are not only building a postseason resume but improving their standing. This is their sixth win over an RPI top-35 team, done mostly with a suffocating and largely underrated defense (they entered the night 13th nationally in defensive efficiency). Weber’s team has shown signs this season, but this is a mood changer.
Such a joyous night and moment for Weber and the sellout crowd, and it was borne out of such anger.
You know, the anger here is hard to describe. When K-State has a big game — which, lately, has basically meant Kansas or Texas — they don’t watch basketball games as much as they scream at them, curse at them, and especially at the referees. At some point in the last decade or so, the people who come to games here at Bramlage Coliseum took the unofficial title of Angriest Fans in America and it fits, often with pride.
Oh, there are other angry, intense, don’t-look-them-in-the-eye places for college basketball. Just in the Big 12, opposing players and coaches have all kinds of stories about Allen Fieldhouse. Hilton Coliseum is the kind of place you might want security to show you out of. Just the other day, a doofus at Texas Tech said something that set off Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.
But the anger here is a different flavor. It’s heavy from the start, layered throughout, and cover your children’s ears when they play that techno song in the second half.
And whether it was that anger or that brutal Wildcats defense (much of the game plan seemed to be “foul Andrew Wiggins early and often and hard”) or a combination of both, they had KU playing a step slow and bit too tentative for all but the last two minutes of regulation.
The Kansas side of this will think about missed opportunities and Joel Embiid not doing much and missing all but three of 17 three-pointers. But in some ways, K-State beat KU twice because a string of mistakes and astoundingly bad clock management conspired to drool away a nine-point lead with fewer than 2 minutes left.
Because the Wildcats outmuscled, outhustled and outplayed KU again in overtime, blowing the lead won’t draw any major questions or attention. So for the Jayhawks, the whole thing continued an increasingly concerning trend of not punching back, not being able to finish and, in Bill Self’s most brutal assessment, playing soft.
KU hasn’t played many close second halves. Oklahoma State on Jan. 18 was the last one. Before that, San Diego State on Jan. 5. The Jayhawks are as talented as any team in the country, and remain a legitimate championship contender, but they are also 1-2 in these games in the last month for a team that’s supposed to be getting better — and that doesn’t include wilting at Texas.
But this is Weber’s moment, and it is Foster’s moment. Their program has a moment, an achievement, a line that will boost their standing in the NCAA Tournament and pictures that will hang on walls for years. This is the Wildcats’ moment.
That’s why you rush the court. Even the security guards know that.