MANHATTAN, Kan. — It took a while for Kansas State to get going under new coach Bruce Weber, but its obvious the Wildcats are starting to hit their stride.
By KELLIS ROBINETT
The Kansas City Star
The Wildcats won their eighth-straight game on Saturday, defeating the Oklahoma Sooners 69-60 at Bramlage Coliseum to stay undefeated in Big 12 play and set up a battle for first place in the conference standings against Kansas in their next game.
It will be one of the most anticipated Sunflower Showdowns in recent years, with both teams likely to be ranked in the top 15 when they meet Tuesday in Manhattan.
If youre a top 25 team you have got to have a swagger about yourself, said senior wing Rodney McGruder, who led all scorers with 20 points. I think we have a swagger about ourselves now. It feels great to be on an eight-game winning streak, but it doesnt stop here.
No. 16 K-State (15-2, 4-0 Big 12) seems up for the challenge. It is playing some of its best basketball at the moment, and handed Oklahoma (12-4, 3-1) its first league loss in convincing fashion behind an impressive balanced effort.
Normally, the Wildcats rely on leading scorer Rodney McGruder to do most of the heavy lifting on offense, hope for someone else to score about 15 points and try to win with defense. That formula has worked throughout the past month, but they took it to a higher level against the Sooners.
On top of McGruder hitting four three-pointers and leading the way after a slow start, Will Spradling, Angel Rodriguez and Shane Southwell all came through with important shots.
Spradling made some momentum-shifting three-pointers on his way to 15 points, Southwell scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half while McGruder was struggling to find open space and Rodriguez also added 12 points. Overall, K-State made 10 of 24 shots from beyond the arc.
In our offense at any given night anyone can have a good night," Spradling said. "It really just lets anybody get the flow of it. Anybody can get hot. It was nice that we didnt have to rely on that one person that was hot at the end of the game, because we had so many players that were playing well and shooting it well.
Added Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger: Kansas State is very good, and when they shoot the ball like that, they are even better.
The Wildcats have clearly come a long way since their early offensive struggles.
We have made some good progress, Weber said. Are we totally there? No, but we are definitely way better than we were in November and early December.
Their defense has been solid the whole way. That was once again evident by Oklahoma committing 16 turnovers, finishing with 59 points and none of its players scoring more than 12 points.
Amath MBaye and Romero Osby both scored 12 points, and the Sooners out-rebounded the Wildcats 39-25, but it wasnt enough. The majority of Oklahomas points came off inbounds passes, set plays and second chances. K-State made everything else difficult, and took advantage of Oklahomas mistakes by scoring 26 points off turnovers.
Kruger, who used to play and coach at K-State, thought that was too much to overcome.
We didnt take very good care of the ball, and that was entirely because of Kansas State. I thought their defense was outstanding, Kruger said. They did a terrific job and dictated. We hadnt had that much trouble handling the ball on the season, but we did today.
It didnt look like K-State was going to be in control at the start. The Sooners took an early lead by focusing its defensive efforts on Mcgruder, daring everyone else in a K-State uniform to beat them. The plan worked to near perfection for more than 13 minutes. McGruder didnt score his first points until sinking a free throw with 6:49 remaining in the first half.
But then the Wildcats found a way to get him open, and Oklahomas chances of beating K-State for a third straight time quickly disappeared. In the span of 4 minutes, McGruder drained back-to-back-to-back three pointers and the Wildcats took a 30-25 lead.
McGruder hopped up the court after draining his third straight outside shot. He was hot, and he knew it.
I was saying, Lets go! McGruder said. I was just excited. We took the lead. I saw the momentum change.
It didnt change back. K-State took a 35-27 lead at halftime and pulled ahead by as many as 14 in the second half.
The Wildcats won decisively. The way they have been playing lately, thats no surprise for them.
We were just ready to play, McGruder said. You see guys, their mentalities have changed around the locker room. We are really focused. When everyone buys into what coach is preaching to us I think we can be very good. Thats what everyone is doing.