The Wildcats got their third crack at the No. 2 team in the country during the semi-finals of the Big 12 Championship, and they were no match for the Jayhawks as Kansas won 67-61 Saturday here at the Ford Center.
Sophomore Mario Chalmers always seems to play well against K-State, and this game was no different as he scored a team-high 16 points.
Sophomore Julian Wright had 12 points and eight rebounds, while freshman Sherron Collins had 10 and six assists. In the two previous meetings that were both won by Kansas, K-State's two leading scorers, senior Cartier Martin and junior David Hoskins, went a combined 13-46 from the field.
Even though the Wildcats donned their black jerseys (they are now 0-3 when wearing the new "special jerseys" this season) for this one, the result stayed the same. Martin led all scorers with 17 and Hoskins had eight, but it took a combined 9-for-23 effort from the field to score those points. Hoskins also turned the ball over eight times and made only two of his four free throw attempts.
"Definitely they are an athletic team," Martin said. "They have some young guys that can do a lot of things and they are a very versatile team. In order for us to beat those guys, we have to do the little things to win the games, but we just haven't been able to get it done."
Hoskins has never played well against the Jayhawks because of Wright.
He matches up defensively with Hoskins almost every time down the court, and Hoskins has never been able to find an answer for the taller, longer, quicker and more athletic Wright.
Those few times Hoskins did get around Wright, another one of KU's big men (juniors Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson and freshman Darrell Arthur) were waiting in the paint to make sure Hoskins never got an open look at the basket. He struggled all game and the frustration was obvious on his face.
Senior Lance Harris had arguably the best game for K-State. He started off the game 4-for-4 from 3-point range, but he missed his final four 3's and finished 5-for-10 from the field with 16 points and five rebounds.
"We just wanted to step up and put the team on our back and play hard," Harris said. "We just didn't do it enough today, so maybe next time." There probably won't be a next time for Harris against the Jayhawks, and there also won't be a next time for senior Akeem Wright, who scored 12 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
The game started off as good as K-State could have imagined. The Wildcats got out to an early 6-2 lead off 3-pointers from Harris and Martin.
They grew their lead to 16-9 before the Jayhawks began making their comeback.
Kansas started a 26-10 run that started at the 12:52 mark of the first half and went all the way to halftime. The Jayhawks entered the break with a 35-28 advantage.
The lead grew in the second half to as many as 14 points. K-State trailed 56-45 with more than six minutes to play but went on an 8-0 run to get within four at 56-52 with just over four minutes remaining in the game. Sloppy play followed and the Wildcats committed fouls that gave Kansas free throws, and the Wildcats were never able to make a serious run at the Jayhawks.
"I thought it was a hard-fought game," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I
thought K-State was great early, but I thought we were great late in
the second half and later in the game."
NCAA TOURNAMENT HOPEFULS
K-State could have punched its ticket into the NCAA Tournament field with a win over the Kansas, but the loss means the Wildcats will have to sweat out Selection Sunday, which begins at 6 tonight.
They are trying to become the first Wildcat team since 1996 to reach the NCAA Tournament, and have made an interesting argument for their acceptance into the field of 65.
Since starting 0-2 in Big 12 play, the Wildcats have gone 11-5 to close out the season. Three of those five losses have come at the hands of the Jayhawks, and the other two came on the road against Oklahoma State and Nebraska. K-State did lose to Texas Tech (another "bubble" team) earlier in the year, but beat the Red Raiders 66-45 during the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship.
Team officials have said the players and Huggins will be watching the announcement of the brackets together, but at an undisclosed site. If some people outside the NCAA selection committee had it their way, K-State wouldn't have anything to worry about come tonight.
"They have a squad that's really tough. They have three guys that are really capable of scoring," Kansas' Wright said. "We know every time we are going to play them it will be a tough game. Hopefully they do make the tournament. I know playing in the Big 12, they'll be ready."
"They absolutely deserve a bid," Self said. "I'm not an expert, but after studying it pretty hard, I feel like you got three teams in our league that are going to get a top 4 seed, and then to have the team that finishes fourth in your league to be considered a bubble team, I think that is ridiculous. The other leagues across America aren't considered that way at all. I think they're in."
The Wildcats also weighed in on their tournament hopes.
"You know, it is hard to understand how far these guys have come and really how good they are today by just crunching numbers," K-State coach Bob Huggins said. "You look up there and they say New Mexico was a bad loss. Well, then why isn't it a good win when we turn around and whack them about a month later?
"We lost to New Mexico and we lost to Colorado State, but there isn't anybody in their right mind that thinks we would lose to those people now. We have gotten so much better, and we are a tournament-caliber team."