Kansas State University

K-State takeaways: Austin Trice makes argument for (much) more playing time

The Kansas State Wildcats made mince meat out of the Oklahoma State Cowboys 85-46 on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum to remain in first place of the Big 12 standings.

Here are some thoughts on the basketball game:

Austin Trice surges back into the rotation

This blowout provided several K-State reserves with an unexpected stage to shine, and Austin Trice stepped into the spotlight.

The 6-foot-7 junior forward had by far his best game in a K-State uniform and made an argument for (much) more playing time by scoring a team-high 12 points and grabbing five rebounds in 18 minutes of action.

Best of all, K-State outscored Oklahoma State by 15 when Trice was on the court.

Those statistics seemed borderline impossible coming into the day, considering Trice appeared to play his way out of the rotation early on this conference season. He hadn’t seen double-digit minutes since December and was a healthy scratch in four of K-State’s past eight games.

He didn’t look anything like the instant difference-maker he was originally billed as coming out of junior college … until Saturday.

“I have a positive feeling about this game,” Trice said afterward. “I feel like there is more to come.”

This certainly could have been his coming-out party.

After starting the season looking like a key reserve for the Wildcats, his minutes evaporated because he didn’t understand how to play defense within Bruce Weber’s system. His energy and rebounding skills have always been there, but with teams scoring at will against him, Weber didn’t trust him enough to play him in meaningful situations.

“It was tough for a minute,” Trice said. “I doubted myself and got down on myself, but Coach Weber told me to keep working hard and keep playing hard and my time would come. I got an opportunity today, and I took advantage of all the time I got.”

His free-throw shooting has also been suspect, but he was a perfect 6 for 6 from the line on Saturday.

Weber said he earned back some trust, especially with Levi Stockard struggling in recent games.

“When teams are bigger it allows us to play him,” Weber said. “When teams are smaller, he is not as good on the perimeter defense. But it was great for him after whatever he was shooting from the free-throw line to go 6 for 6. He was the leading scorer and a nice boost for us.”

Trice was far from the only bench contributor in this game. Shaun Neal-Williams had 10 points and six assists, Stockard had eight points and Nigel Shadd threw down an alley-oop dunk in the final moments.

But Trice was the top surprise performer. He has now strung two decent games together after playing four solid minutes in the second half against West Virginia last Monday.

He called this game a “confidence booster.” His teammates agree.

“It was great to see him have energy and go in there and rebound, box out and hit free throws,” Dean Wade said. “He has been working on those a lot. It’s awesome to see him out there having fun again. He brings so much to the table, it is always fun to watch him play like that.”

Perfect time for a blowout

Things couldn’t have gone any better for the Wildcats in this one. Not only did they win, they won big. Not only did they jump out to an early lead, they were able to empty the bench and rest starters 48 hours ahead of one of their biggest games of the season.

Much like in the NCAA Tournament, that could pay major dividends as the Wildcats prepare for a road game against rival Kansas on a short turnaround.

The Jayhawks will have home-court advantage in that one, but the Wildcats will be the more rested team. While K-State players were living up an easy victory on Saturday, KU was on the road fighting hard to stay in second place against Texas Tech.

“You couldn’t ask for a better scenario,” Weber said, “to be rested for Monday.”

It will take more than a rested team for K-State to win its first game at Allen Fieldhouse since the Jim Wooldridge era (2006), but the Wildcats will take every advantage they can get. And blowing out Oklahoma State on Saturday certainly made their path to a victory on Monday a little easier.

Dean Wade got to rest his injured right foot for all but 11 minutes. Kamau Stokes complained of a nagging toe injury early in the second half and got to spend the rest of the game off his feet. Barry Brown only saw 26 minutes. They will be as rested as possible against the Jayhawks.

Another good game from Xavier Sneed

Xavier Sneed missed a morning shootaround because of the stomach flu, but he felt well enough to play against Oklahoma State.

You wouldn’t have known he was sick based on his numbers. The junior guard hit two three-pointers on his way to 12 points in just 19 minutes.

Sneed appears to be coming on strong the same way he did last season. He has now reached double figures in four of his past six games, including a big 19-point effort against West Virginia.

Long live the lavenders

K-State plays some of its best basketball in its throwback lavender uniforms.

The Wildcats went 3-0 in them last season and dominated Oklahoma State while wearing them Saturday. The NCAA doesn’t like two-tone uniforms (K-State had to apply for a waiver to wear them in this game) so fans won’t see them again until next season.

Here’s an idea: K-State and Nike should work to create all-lavender uniforms so the Wildcats can wear the color more often. They would work well as an alternate look the team could bust out whenever it wants.

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.