With five minutes left to play Wednesday night, K-State held a two-point lead over Baylor - after leading by as many as 18. At that point, one could not have disagreed with any Wildcat fans that felt they were seeing a rerun of so many previous games. But before fans could say "Oklahoma Sooners," freshman guard Clent Stewart hit a 3-pointer to increase the K-State lead to five. The Bears would get no closer the rest of the game.
Coach Jim Wooldridge said that his freshman point guard has proven the capability of doing that all season long. "He's not afraid to step up and take a big shot," Wooldridge said.
The Wildcats would capitalize on free throw opportunities and end the contest on a 20-11 run. "I was having a couple of flashbacks (back to the Oklahoma game)," said sophomore guard Lance Harris. "I was just telling everybody to knock down our free throws and we'll be all right." K-State would hit their free throws, making 13-of-14 attempts in the final five minutes.
For the Wildcats, as has been the case for much of the season, the Baylor game was a game of streaks. Leading 36-31 at the half, the Wildcats opened the second half scoring quickly and often, while shutting the Bears down on the defensive end. With just under 16 minutes on the clock the Cats held a 50-32 lead, completing a 14-1 run. The run was highlighted by a Lance Harris two-fisted-finish after sophomore guard Fred Peete threw him a thread-the-needle pass through the lane.
Unfortunately for K-State, Baylor would not go down without a run of their own. Throughout the next 10 minutes, the Bears managed to find their offense while capitalizing on Wildcat mistakes. The end result was 26-10 Baylor run that cut the Wildcats' lead to two with five minutes remaining.
While the Wildcats were pleased with the victory, they were quick to point out that there is still business to be dealt with. "We feel that we have a chance to win out and go to the Big 12 Tournament and do some great things," said senior forward Jeremiah Massey.
Massey led the Wildcats in scoring with 24, including 14 in the first half. Massey said he felt confident going against a Baylor frontline that started two freshmen and a sophomore. "I felt like I could have my way against their man defense, and that's pretty much what they tried to do," Massey said. "I just saw the opportunity to score, so I took it." Massey made the most of his opportunities, making 10-of-12 attempts and hitting 4-of-5 at the free throw line.
The Wildcats started the lineup of Stewart, Peete, Harris, sophomore forward Cartier Martin and Massey for the second straight game, and relied on those five for most of the contest. Massey, Harris and Peete each logged at least 36 minutes. Four of the five starters would end the game with double-figures in scoring, with Martin scoring 15, Harris scoring 14, and Peete chipping in with 10, to accompany Massey's 24.
Wooldridge said the Wildcat offense was able to dictate the flow of the game. "It was a lay-up game," Wooldridge said, "and we wanted to make it that way."
While only playing nine minutes, Tyler Hughes made his mark against the young Baylor posts. Hughes pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds, and scored four points off two dunks. A left-handed tip-slam in the first half was followed by the drone of "Huuuuuuughes" from the Wildcat crowd. Wooldridge said he appreciated the impact Hughes made in limited minutes. "In the first half he was the only one rebounding," Wooldridge said.
One major focus for the Wildcat defense was containing Baylor freshman guard Aaron Bruce. Bruce came into the contest averaging 17.7 points per game, the highest scoring average ever by a Big 12 freshman. The Wildcats gave Bruce a variety of defensive looks, assigning Fred Peete, Lance Harris and Clent Stewart to guard him at various points in the game. While holding Bruce to just four points in the first half, Bruce found his touch in the second half, ending the contest with 20.
With a win to build on, after the game the Wildcats were still focused on finishing the five-game season that Wooldridge set for his players prior to the Oklahoma game. "We're staying with that same five-game mentality," Wooldridge said. "The next one is at Colorado and I would assume and predict that we'll be ready to go."
Sitting at 1-1 in their five-game season, the
Wildcats' next three games are critical in their hunt
for the postseason. A strong finish, as well as a run
in the Big 12 Tournament, would work wonders for the
Cats in their reach for an NIT bid.
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