The Iowa State Cyclones handed the Kansas State Wildcats their first Big 12 loss since early January on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
They won 78-64 with a combination of hot-shooting and injuries. While Talen Horton-Tucker and Lindell Wigginton combined for 11 three-pointers, K-State star forward Dean Wade was hobbled with an injured right foot.
The Wildcats (19-6, 9-3 Big 12) are now only one game up in the loss column over Iowa State, Kansas and Texas Tech in the conference standings. The Big 12 race just got a whole lot more interesting.
Here are some thoughts on the basketball game:
Dean Wade is hurt … again
It seemed strange to watch Dean Wade play so passively against the Cyclones until K-State coach Bruce Weber revealed that Wade entered Saturday’s game with a soft-tissue injury to his right foot.
The star senior forward had soreness in his foot all week and didn’t practice leading up to this one, needing a medical boot just to walk around.
That explains how Iowa State made him disappear in the first half, holding him to two points on just one shot in 19 minutes of action. Wade had a significant size advantage over his primary defender (Horton-Tucker) and would have normally exploited the mismatch. But he wasn’t healthy enough to spin to the basket or dunk like he usually does so well.
He was more aggressive in the second half, finishing with nine points and five rebounds. But he wasn’t on the court long enough to make a true difference. He limped off the floor with about seven minutes remaining and never returned.
Wade felt good enough to stand during timeouts and participate in team huddles, but he spent the rest of the game at the end of the bench next to the team doctor. Afterward, he signed autographs for a large group of kids with a medical boot wrapped around his right foot.
When will he play next?
For now, that’s a mystery. It seems unlikely that he will be ready to play against West Virginia on Monday, but Weber is hopeful that Wade can return to the court for K-State’s next home game against Oklahoma State on Feb. 23.
Luckily, the Wildcats can probably afford to play without him in the short term. It would be unwise for Weber to rush him back before K-State heads to Kansas on Feb. 25. As poorly as West Virginia and Oklahoma State are playing right now, the Wildcats should be able to beat them at less than full strength.
The Mountaineers look like they’ve thrown in the towel on this season, and the Cowboys have lost five straight games.
Weber should give Wade a week of rest and roll the dice without him against the Big 12’s worst two teams.
K-State closes the season against Kansas, Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma. The Wildcats should take every precaution possible to help Wade be ready for the home stretch of a Big 12 race that suddenly feels wide open.
The Wildcats haven’t swept any Big 12 teams … yet
While it’s reasonable to chalk up this result as a good game for Iowa State and a bad one for K-State, it has to be somewhat concerning that the Wildcats are still trying to sweep their first conference opponent.
K-State’s nine-game conference winning streak came against all nine teams in the league without a single repeat opponent. They won rematches against Texas and Texas Tech but lost another to Iowa State.
No amount of planning, health or execution probably could have saved them here. Not with Iowa State making 58.3 percent of its three-pointers (14 of 24). Horton-Tucker and Wigginton made outside shots like they were Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. They drained threes from NBA range, way behind the college line.
“It was just one of those games,” said K-State guard Barry Brown, after scoring 23 points. “They were on fire.”
“They had a day,” added Weber.
That’s all true. But Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm also had his team better prepared for K-State than Weber had his team prepared for the Cyclones. They played with more motivation and knew how to stop the Wildcats on defense, outside of Brown.
Odds are strong the Wildcats will beat West Virginia and Oklahoma State next, giving them a pair of season sweeps over Big 12 foes. But it might not be as easy as some expect. Rematch games are always tricky in this conference.
Next man up
Without Cartier Diarra, and now possibly Wade, in the lineup, several unsung and unproven players need to step up for the Wildcats.
It seems like Makol Mawien is the only K-State player currently rising to the challenge. The junior forward had 10 points and seven rebounds against the Cyclones, one game after finishing with 11 points and four rebounds against Texas.
That has been a welcome boost of production for K-State, but the Wildcats need more players to step up and help. It was noticeable that Iowa State got 31 points from its bench and K-State only got seven, with all of them coming from reserve guard Mike McGuirl.
K-State needed all five of its starters to reach double figures to fend off Texas.
Weber says he will continue relying on McGuirl, but he wants more out of freshman guard Shaun Neal-Williams and sophomore forward Levi Stockard. They both went scoreless against Iowa State.
The Wildcats may need more from both of them in their next two games. At less than full strength, they need all hands on deck to stay on top of the conference standings.