Coming off back-to-back road wins at Baylor and at Missouri, the Wildcats looked as if they could finish Big 12 play with a torrid stretch run. Instead, they suffered a 65-61 defeat at home to Iowa State on Feb. 25, leaving them 19-9 overall and average in the conference at 8-8.
"What cost us the game was just immaturity and nonsense," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "I wish I could give you some rocket-science explanation about why we got beat. We'd be here until tomorrow morning if I started explaining everything that's been bad."
If that is the case, it would be too much to expect Kansas State to mount any kind of strong postseason push. Although freshmen such as point guard Angel Rodriguez and forward Thomas Gipson have contributed mightily to the Wildcats' fortunes, enough veteran leadership exists to prevent the club from acting foolishly.
Yet without providing details, Martin clearly indicated his team cannot handle much fortune. At least its behavior contributed to failing to protect its home court for the fourth time in eight Big 12 games. The loss thrust the Wildcats back into a tie with Texas for fifth place.
Rodriguez was solid against the Cyclones, while junior forward Jordan Henriquez enjoyed a banner game, providing career highs in points (19), rebounds (12) and blocks (seven). Otherwise, the Wildcats struggled. They rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to gain a second-half lead, only to blow that too by allowing 29 points to Iowa State sharpshooter Scott Christopherson.
"We missed free throws, and we turned it over again in the last four minutes," Martin said. "You can't win Big 12 games if you do that the last four minutes."
Coach questions guard's focus
--Kansas State is going to live or die with a freshman running the point, and by coach Frank Martin's estimation, the Wildcats died using Angel Rodriguez for 36 minutes in a 65-61 loss to Iowa State on Feb. 25. "He never ran anything I asked him to run," Martin said. "If you play (36) minutes and you've got no numbers, that makes you a pretty bad player. That's what a point guard should do, have assists and no turnovers. Inability to run the stuff that we talked about doing, that's maturity." Rodriguez finished with 11 points and eight assists against one turnover before fouling out.
--One Wildcat who didn't play as if the season ended with a 78-68 upset win at Missouri on Feb. 21 was F Jordan Henriquez. After finding the doghouse earlier in the season when he served a one-game suspension during Big 12 play, Henriquez logged 34 minutes against Iowa State and established career highs for points (19), rebounds (12) and blocks (seven). After he went to the bench for a second-half breather, the Cyclones mounted a 17-6 run that effectively allowed them to control the finish. "Everybody else," said Martin, "I guess they thought that there was some party at Bramlage (Coliseum) to celebrate us beating Missouri."
--The back-to-back victories against Baylor and Missouri marked the first time in Kansas State history the Wildcats beat two successive top-10 opponents on the road. Before those wins, the Wildcats played another top-10 team, Kansas. The string marked the first time since the 1964 NCAA Tournament that Kansas State faced three consecutive top-10 opponents.
BY THE NUMBERS: 20 --
Wins for Kansas State against ranked opponents under fifth-year coach Frank Martin, including eight on the road.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"We take a lead in the second half, I have to make some substitutions, and all of a sudden we go (from) up six to down five or whatever in a matter of seconds because I've got to make substitutions so guys can actually catch a breath. It's just unfortunate." -- Kansas State coach Frank Martin, after the Feb. 25 loss to Iowa State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Texas A&M, Feb. 28
The Aggies are healthier since the return of two starters, F Khris Middleton (knee) and G Dash Harris (arch), and as long as both produce and do not aggravate any ailments, this could be a team that surprises down the stretch. A&M is competitive at home, rallying from a huge deficit to pull within four of Kansas before tumbling 66-58 on Feb. 22. Middleton provides a threat off the wing to go with G Elston Turner's outside pop.
--vs. Oklahoma State, March 3
The first matchup in Stillwater was claimed by the Wildcats, who got away with physical play and prevailed 66-58 on Jan. 21. The Cowboys have several capable scorers, but their starters tend to play extended minutes because the team lacks depth. G Keiton Page is finishing his senior year strong, while G Markel Brown and F Le'Bryan Nash are also capable threats. The Cowboys rank last in the Big 12 in rebounding margin (minus-5.3).
Who knows what Kansas State is going to bring from one game to the next? After winning back-to-back road games against Baylor and Missouri, the Wildcats looked primed for a fantastic stretch run, then lost at home on Feb. 25 to Iowa State. This does not look like a team capable of an extended postseason run, because when it plays poorly it can go into offensive funks, fail to get stops defensively or both.
--Junior G Rodney McGruder posted a double-double against Iowa State with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He also led all scorers with 24 points in the Feb. 21 win at Missouri, and he had netted double figures in 17 of the last 18 games through Feb. 26.
--Junior F Jordan Henriquez set the Kansas State record for blocks, boosting his career total to 132 with 23 rejections in the last six games through Feb. 26, including seven against Iowa State. He also snagged 12 rebounds, though Kansas State was outrebounded 37-35.
--Sophomore G Shane Southwell, though not recognized for his shooting touch, went 4-for-4 and scored eight points in 15 minutes against Iowa State.