The Kansas State Wildcats picked up another key victory in their quest for a Big 12 championship by beating the Texas Longhorns 71-64 on Tuesday at the Erwin Center.
Here are some thoughts on the basketball game:
This was a coaching masterpiece
Bruce Weber deserves a game ball for his coaching decisions. He ran metaphorical circles around Shaka Smart and helped the Wildcats beat the Longhorns with some unexpected strategy.
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Here were his two most impressive coaching decisions of the night:
1. He called timeout after Texas guard Courtney Ramey hit a three-pointer that gave the Longhorns a 39-31 lead in the final moments of the first half and made some major adjustments. Before that point, K-State was trying to protect Barry Brown and Xavier Sneed from picking up their third fouls, but their replacements, Shaun Neal-Williams and Mike McGuirl, were getting exposed on defense. Weber hates to play anyone with two fouls in the first half, but he inserted his starting guards back into the game and the Wildcats pulled to within 39-35 by halftime. Brown hit a contested long jumper on K-State’s final possession.
“We didn’t want to let it get away,” Weber said. “We had to put them back in there and let them make plays.”
2. He abandoned K-State’s trusted man-to-man defense in favor of a zone for long stretches of the second half, and it completely rattled Texas. The Longhorns abused the Wildcats in the first half by making 55.6 percent of their shots and scoring 24 points in the paint. Weber was wise enough to realize something had to change, and he made a perfect adjustment. K-State has only played a few possessions of zone defense all season, and it caught Texas completely by surprise. The Longhorns only made 30 percent of their shots in the second half. They were at their worst from three-point range, where they went 2 for 11.
“They went to zone and they have not played a lot of zone,” Smart said. “Our guys have been pretty good against zone of late, but it got our guys on their heels.”
K-State players could feel a change in momentum when they started to get some stops.
“We tried to make them read different defenses and then react on the fly,” K-State guard Barry Brown said. “We are not a zone team. You don’t normally see us play zone or isolate ball screens, so it probably took them by surprise and was something they had to adjust to on the fly.”
K-State also won the game with a flurry of offense, which included 53.6 percent shooting in the first half and 56.5 percent shooting in the second half.
Players generally win games, not coaches, and that remains true following a big win at Texas. But there’s no denying Weber put his guys in excellent position to succeed.
If winning in different ways is the sign of a good coach, Weber came through in this one. It’s been a long time since K-State fans watched their team win a game by making shots and playing zone defense.
Nine in a row
Winning nine consecutive Big 12 games is impressive no matter how you slice it, but K-State’s current winning streak looks exceptionally good in part because it came against all nine teams in the conference.
The Wildcats started conference play 0-2 with losses to Texas and Texas Tech while starters Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade were working their way back from injury. But they have reeled off nine straight wins without playing a team twice.
That stretch included five road games, and yet the Wildcats own a winning streak over every team in the Big 12.
K-State (19-5, 9-2 Big 12) is on top of the conference standings. It leads Kansas by 1 1/2 games and holds a two-game advantage over Baylor, Texas Tech and Iowa State. So you shouldn’t need any more reasons to believe in the team’s trophy chances. But that kind of domination should help win over any remaining doubters.
Filling in for Cartier Diarra
The Wildcats did a nice job replacing the production they lost from sophomore guard Cartier Diarra, who missed the game because of a hand injury, with balanced scoring.
Five different K-State players reached double figures. Barry Brown (16 points), Xavier Sneed (16), Dean Wade (12), Kamau Stokes (11) and Makol Mawien (11) all had big games on the offensive end.
Mawien’s contributions were among the most important of all. He has slumped hard in recent games, but had one of his finest efforts against Texas.
“We lost a guy, so it wasn’t like we had our heads down. We had our spirits high,” Brown said. “We knew that we had to pick up our level of play, whatever it may be. It’s not always about scoring, it might be rebounding, defense, diving on the floor, even energy on the bench. It wasn’t hard to get our guys up without one of or our key players in the lineup.”