The finish seemed perfect. The Wildcats had seen a double-digit lead diminish and then turn into a six-point deficit. The Cats fought back and took a 68-67 lead after freshman guard Clent Stewart stole an inbounds pass and converted one of two free throws. The Sooners had no timeouts and would have to rely on improvisation to even have a chance to win the game. What a way for the Wildcats to end a five-game losing streak.
For Oklahoma, that’s when the smallest player on the floor became the biggest. Sooner guard Drew Lavender, standing at 5’7”, took the inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the floor and tossed up a desperation shot. A shot that would leave the game surrounded by controversy and leave the Wildcat faithful in attendance in an uproar.
The shot left Lavender's hand before the buzzer sounded, bounced around on the rim, and found its way through- but the question lied in the whether or not Oklahoma forward Kevin Bookout had tipped the ball after the buzzer had sounded. After consulting a video replay, the referees ruled that the shot was clean, an announcement that left the Wildcats stunned.
Coach Jim Wooldridge spoke with obvious frustration following the game. “The monitor indicated that the shot was off in time,” Wooldridge said, “but I thought the ball was tipped- my feeling was that the ball was tipped. If it had not been tipped, which apparently it had not, then the shot should have counted.”
Wooldridge said the Wildcats knew what to expect following Stewart’s free throw. “They are going to get it as far as they can get it, and get it down,” Wooldridge said. “That’s exactly what they did. That’s what any team would do – just try to get it down the floor and get a shot up. I don’t know if there’s a pay that can be run in that amount of time. You just run it down the floor as fast as you can and get it up on the board.”
It seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same for the Wildcats. After losing five straight games, the Wildcats found many areas to change. The Cats started a lineup of Clent Stewart, Fred Peete, Lance Harris, Cartier Martin and Jeremiah Massey for the first time of the season. The Wildcats also seemed to adjust their game plan, coming out of the gate with an intensity and pressure on defense that had not been seen in previous games. The result of the new lineup and new intensity was immediate and was a positive one for K-State. The Wildcats held the Sooners scoreless for over five minutes to begin the game and found themselves with a 19-7 advantage with 10 minutes remaining in the half.
The fact that the Wildcats were up by double-digits, as opposed to trailing as they had in their five previous games, was a change that Cat fans had longed for. Unfortunately, the Wildcats allowed Oklahoma back in the game, much like the Wildcats had fought back on select occasions when they trailed in previous games.
K-State led 41-28 at halftime, but came out cold and was trailing 55-54 with 9:20 remaining. “They made shots and we didn’t. They made the same kind of shots we missed,” Wooldridge said regarding the Wildcats losing what had once been a 16-point lead.
Change also was the theme of the rotation used by the Wildcats. With the new lineup the Wildcats also found a spot for freshman guard Curtis Allen in the playing rotation. Allen pulled down three rebounds and had one assist in eight minutes of action. A casualty of the new rotation was Tyler Hughes. A member of the starting lineup as recently as the previous game against Iowa State, Hughes found himself on the bench for most of the contest, playing only three minutes.
Change was also the theme for appearance- for Justin Williams anyway. Williams chose to stray from the trademark cornrows that he’s sported since day one at K-State and puffed out a Julius Erving-style afro for Saturday’s contest. With the new ‘do, Williams took Jeremiah Massey’s spot for player with the biggest hair on the team, and definitely gained a couple inches, making him the tallest player on the team. Now if only they had used an ABA-style ball.
No K-State players were made available to the media following the loss. Wooldridge’s reasoning was simple. “I didn’t want them to crack like me,” Wooldridge said.
K-State was led in scoring by Cartier Martin, who seemed to adjust well to starting at the four spot. Martin scored 22 points, hitting on 9 of 11 attempts, but with no successful 3-pointers. Drew Lavender’s 29 points led Oklahoma. At times, Lavender looked like he should be competing the Saturday night’s NBA 3-point Contest, hitting on 6 of 9 attempts.
With the loss, the Wildcats can no longer finish .500 in league play. To achieve their goal of postseason play, the Wildcats will now need a hot finish in league play, and must play well in the Big 12 Tournament.
Throughout the first half of Saturday’s game, the Wildcats looked like a completely different team. The aggressive play, defensive intensity and hot shooting looked like that of many teams that compete in March every year. But once again, it seemed like things had to even out for the Wildcats, and the scoring wasn’t there in the second half. K-State suffered through separate three- and four-minute scoreless stretches and was outscored by 14 in the second half. The more things change…