Kansas State University

How Cartier Diarra pulled off K-State’s Assist of the Year in 70-63 win at Baylor

Cartier Diarra already owns Kansas State’s Dunk of the Year.

Now he also has the team’s Assist of the Year.

Diarra, a sophomore guard, pulled off one of the most impressive passes you will see in college basketball this season during the Wildcats’ 70-63 victory over the Baylor Bears on Saturday at Ferrell Center.

It was unexpected, it was athletic and it led to an uncontested dunk.

Here’s how it happened: After swiping the ball away from Baylor’s Mark Vital under the K-State goal, Diarra jumped out of bounds behind the baseline and looked for a teammate. When he saw Barry Brown streaking down court, he launched the ball with his all his might and somehow found Brown in stride for an uncontested dunk.

“It was going out of bounds,” Diarra said. “Using my athleticism, I just jumped and used a little hang time to read the court and see where everybody was at. I saw Barry looking like he wanted me to throw it long, so I threw it long and he went and got it before the other Baylor player. It looked really good, I bet.”

K-State trailed for much of the game, but that pass and finish put the Wildcats in total command with a 64-56 lead.

It was a fitting conclusion to a jaw-dropping play, even if it was unadvised at first glance.

“You never save it under your goal,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “That is one of the things you learn in (youth) basketball. But that was a big-time play. That type of play is the the kind of thing that made the difference in the game.”

Well, that and timely shooting.

The Wildcats flexed their scoring muscles when they needed to and finished the game on a 29-15 run. The Bears led 48-41 midway through the second half and seemed on their way to a crucial home victory that would keep them in the thick of the race for a Big 12 championship. But they had no answers for K-State down the stretch.

Diarra played a factor there, too. Before he hit Brown for a highlight dunk, he gave the Wildcats a 54-53 lead by hitting a driving layup and then connecting on a three-pointer.

Not long ago, Diarra was struggling mightily and it seemed like Mike McGuirl had passed him in K-State’s playing rotation. But he has turned things around in a big way. He add 10 points against the Bears and has now reached double figures in four consecutive games.

Throw in two plays that will live on whenever K-State highlight clips are shown and he suddenly looks like a player on the rise.

His recent hot streak raises an interesting question: which highlight was better?

You could make a case for Diarra’s windmill dunk against Kansas or his Hail Mary assist against Baylor.

Still, K-State players think they know the answer.

“The assist today,” senior guard Kamau Stokes said.

“Easily,” added Diarra. “It was a smart play.

“And,” Stokes said, “we won the game. We won the next game.”

Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.