Kansas State entered the weekend with a reputation for defense.
During its long winning streak and rise into the national polls, it regularly held opponents to season-low point totals. It was allowing a Big 12-best 58 points per game and it was coming off a sterling performance at TCU, giving up a measly 47 points.
Then the Wildcats entered Allen Fieldhouse, and that reputation took a hit. On Saturday, Kansas scored with ease on its way to an 86-60 beat down. It was K-State’s first loss since a 90-63 setback against Georgetown in late November.
That defeat motivated K-State to improve and win 10 straight. How the Wildcats respond this time is unknown. But the defeats share at least one common thread: They were both humbling.
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"I didn’t think we fought for things," K-State coach Bruce Weber said. "We didn’t get our hands up. We weren’t aggressive. We let them move the ball freely. The things they did, they executed their stuff to perfection."
K-State looked nothing like the team that effectively leaned on its defense over the past two months. Kansas hit 56.1 percent of its shots, found space for thunderous dunks and committed seven turnovers, all coming in the second half. It wasn’t until Shane Southwell stole a loose ball away from Andrew Wiggins with 16 minutes, 44 seconds remaining that K-State forced its first turnover.
That was a major reason why the Jayhawks raced to a 45-28 halftime lead.
"When you have no turnovers and 14 assists at halftime that is obviously pretty good," Weber said. "We got them going a little bit in the second half, but you can’t spot somebody like that 20 points and expect to get back in it."
Dismal starts have doomed the Wildcats in recent years at Allen Fieldhouse. Not only have they failed to beat Kansas on the road since 2006, they have rarely challenged the Jayhawks in their building. All week, players talked about the importance of getting off to a better start. They vowed things would be different.
But a horrible defensive effort made that impossible.
"I feel like we couldn’t get a stop," junior forward Thomas Gipson said. "We were playing hard in the beginning, going back and forth, but down the stretch they made a couple threes and we let the crowd get to us and we just froze."
That indecision led to a first half that was the worst 20 minutes of defense K-State has played all season. Yes, Georgetown also scored 45 points in both halves against K-State, but the Wildcats didn’t have Jevon Thomas back then. And Gipson was just returning from an injury.
Kansas made things look way too easy, sinking shots left and right until the game was out of reach.
A size mismatch hurt K-State. The Wildcats like to put Gipson in the middle and spread the floor around him with speed and athleticism. That strategy works against most teams, but not the Jayhawks, who are blessed with size up and down the roster.
K-State tried to negate that advantage by trapping in the post, something it hasn’t done this season. The experiment went poorly. Wiggins scored a game-high 22 points, Wayne Selden added 20, Perry Ellis had 12 and Joel Embiid had 11 points and nine rebounds.
For the Wildcats, only Nino Williams (12 points) and Gipson (10 points) reached double figures. They struggled most from the outside, hitting 1 of 11 three-pointers. That wasn’t enough to counteract a poor defensive effort.
"Our main focus was to try and post-trap," Gipson said. "This game we only had two days to try and do that. We weren’t prepared for it, but, at the end of the day, we just didn’t play hard enough."
K-State will try to bounce back in its next game against Oklahoma on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum. The Sooners handed Iowa State its first loss on Saturday.
"During our winning streak we have been up on the ball, pressuring," Weber said. "I don’t think we did a good job of that. We never disrupted them. We have to get back to what makes us successful."