Inside Slant - Kansas State

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Defensive improvement was on display in consecutive wins. Something was lacking out of Kansas State as it lost three of its first four Big 12 games.....

Frank Martin noticed pretty quickly, then criticized his team for its lack of intensity and structure on defense after the Wildcats lost at Oklahoma on Jan. 14.

For the fifth-year coach, the answer was simple. Get back to basics. So Kansas State guarded a little tighter, particularly against standout shooters, won back-to-back games against Texas and Oklahoma State, and evened its Big 12 record at 3-3 while climbing to 14-4 overall through Jan. 22.

The Wildcats held Texas' J'Covan Brown to 8-for-28 shooting from the field. Oklahoma State's Keiton Page was limited to 4-for-17 shooting. In both cases, the Wildcats took away a deadly threat and came out winners.

"We got back to practicing the things that are important to us and make us who we are," Martin said, "rather than recreating the wheel."

The defense was so good against Oklahoma State (or else Oklahoma State was so bad) that the Wildcats held the Cowboys without a field goal for a stretch of 15 minutes bridging the two halves. Oklahoma State was 16 of 46 from the field and made its only 3-pointer (out of 16 attempts) with two minutes remaining. That came from Page, an outside bomber who was 1-for-9 from behind the arc.

In addition, the win against Texas was a preserved with a steal by junior guard Martavious Irving in the final seconds. By crashing through a screen and refusing to switch, Irving stole a handoff and kept the Longhorns from a last-second shot attempt as Kansas State won 84-80.

"Our team confidence is starting to grow again," Martin said, "and I'm excited about that."

NOTES, QUOTES

Oklahoma State usually suits Wildcats to a T

--As animated and demonstrative as Frank Martin can be, he is certain his Kansas State teams lead the Big 12 in the fewest technical fouls during his five years directing Kansas State. It could be true. Martin usually reserves his vitriol for his players, not officials. Games at Oklahoma State are another issue, however. And sure enough, on a Jan. 21 visit, F Thomas Gipson was tagged with a technical that served as his fifth foul as he mildly protested a ticky-tack foul.

"We get teched here every time we come into this building," Martin said.

--The bigger point Martin alluded to when he began his take on technicals was the inability of the Wildcats to overcome adversity on visits to Oklahoma State. They carried an 11-game losing streak at Gallagher-Iba Arena, which dated to 1993, before topping the Cowboys 66-58 and ending the skid.

"Every year I've been here, something's happened where we've come unraveled," Martin said. "I know these things, but you don't tell your players that. I was really proud of the way they stayed the course."

--After not playing at all in a Jan. 14 loss at Oklahoma, G Angel Rodriguez was thrust into the starting lineup, a move Martin said he is going to stick with after the freshman shared team-high scoring honors with 14 points at Oklahoma State. The move gives Kansas State another primary ball-handler to go with G Will Spradling, and it allows Spradling to focus more on defending opponents' top perimeter threats. In addition, G Martavious Irving offers Martin additional consistency off the bench after losing his starting spot to Rodriguez. Irving made a key steal to prevent Texas from taking a shot in the final seconds of an 84-80 win by the Wildcats on Jan. 18.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 --

Consecutive games G Rodney McGruder had led Kansas State in scoring after he shared team-high honors with G Martavious Rodriguez by netting 14 points at Oklahoma State on Jan. 21.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"I got off the bus (from Norman), went to the gym and shot I don't how many shots. I tried to make up for what I did. I talked to myself and I knew I could step up and not keep doing the wrong things."

-- G Angel Rodriguez, on the first two starts he received after he did not play in a Jan. 14 loss at Oklahoma.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Texas Tech, Jan. 25

KEY MATCHUPS:

United Spirit Arena, with its capacity of 15,098, is almost like a ghost town with the Red Raiders struggling under first-year coach Billy Gillispie. Different combinations have become a way for Gillispie to seek answers. F Jordan Tolbert, a freshman, has been Texas Tech's most consistent performer, though he too is capable of an off night. G Javarez Willis has become more of a scorer and someone who can hurt defenses with his dribble penetration.

--vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 28

KEY MATCHUPS:

The Sooners dominated the first matchup in Norman, winning 82-73 behind 15-for-18 shooting from F Andrew Fitzgerald and F Romero Osby. Fitzgerald scored a game-high 21 points, showing his mid-range shooting touch. The visit will be the first for Lon Kruger to his alma mater since taking over at Oklahoma. Kruger, an All-Big Eight guard and later a four-year coach of the Wildcats, has brought just one other team, Texas-Pan American, to Manhattan.

FUTURES MARKET:

Although G Rodney McGruder is emerging as a go-to threat, something many figured would not happen because of his reserved personality, Kansas State cannot rely exclusively on the 6-foot-4 junior. Other help must be provided, including any points the Wildcats can get inside. The front-liners struggle to convert tip-ins and layups but are adept drawing fouls. Kansas State, however, has trouble converting. Its .624 percentage from the line in conference play ranked ninth in the Big 12 through Jan. 22 and will make opponents less concerned about fouling in tight situations.

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior C Jordan Henriquez was suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons. The announcement came the day after a Jan. 18 win against Texas. Henriquez did not play in the second half of that game. He did not make the trip to Oklahoma State and will not practice with the Wildcats during the suspension.

--Freshman F Adrian Diaz logged a season-high 24 minutes at Oklahoma State as the Wildcats' first big man off the bench with Henriquez unavailable. Diaz scored just four points but grabbed nine rebounds as Kansas State forged a 50-29 advantage on the glass.

--Junior G Rodney McGruder netted a career-high 33 points in the Texas victory. It was the fourth time in a seven-game stretch McGruder shot 64 percent or better. He led the Big 12 with a 21.8-point average during conference play through Jan. 22.


Purple Pride Top Stories