Wildcats eye sweep of Longhorns

Following its second consecutive win, Kansas State pushed above .500 in conference play and took fifth place in the Big 12 standings.
Tuesday’s 65-46 home victory came against the Big 12’s worst squad, Texas Tech, but the competition gets much tougher for Kansas State (17-6, 6-5 Big 12). The Wildcats travel to face Texas (15-9, 5-6) on Saturday followed by consecutive games vs. Big 12 heavyweights — Kansas, Missouri and Baylor.
To win any of those games, Kansas State will need a better offensive performance than it showed Tuesday. It shot just 30 percent and went almost seven minutes without scoring during the first half and almost nine minutes without a field goal during the second half.
“Offensively, we were watching guys walk around,” coach Frank Martin said. “We took bad shots and did not rebound.”
Junior guard Rodney McGruder, though, had one of his best offensive performances when Kansas State defeated Texas 84-80 on Jan. 18. He scored a career-high 33 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
McGruder also may have to defend Texas’ best player, junior guard J’Covan Brown, the Longhorns’ leading scorer with 19.6 points per game.
Another exciting matchup likely will occur at the point guard position when two speedy freshman floor leaders, Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez and Texas’ Myck Kabongo, face off.
Texas has a lot of young talent at guard, but Kansas State, the Big 12’s leading rebounding team, will try to expose the Longhorns’ weak frontcourt.
TRENDING: The Big 12’s best rebounding team at 38.8 per game, Kansas State outrebounded its opponent in 18 of its first 22 games. However, Texas Tech, which ranked 307th in rebounds per game, bested Kansas State on the boards during the first half, 22-15. Kansas State coach Frank Martin likely lit into his team at halftime because the Wildcats came out much more aggressive. They outrebounded Tech by nine during the second half to win the overall rebounding battle, 36-34.


Bramlage crowd lends a hand
Concerned about the vulnerability of his team and just how much spirit Kansas State could summon following back-to-back narrow defeats, Frank Martin took matters into his own hands Feb. 4.
The Kansas State coach exhorted a full house in Bramlage Coliseum to make more noise and give the Wildcats more support. After trailing by a point after a lackluster first half, Kansas State eventually recovered to thump Texas A&M 64-53.
The victory pushed the Wildcats to 16-6 overall and 5-5 in the Big 12 as they learned to get by without their leading scorer, Rodney McGruder. The junior guard did play 27 minutes, but only 10 came in the second half. He rested a strained toe, and two other backcourt members, Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez, helped steer a decisive 27-6 spurt.
Rodriguez, a freshman who fouled out of the previous two games, scored nine straight points during one stretch. Spradling, who had made one 3-pointer in the previous four games, nailed four of five 3-pointers and netted a career-best 19 points.
Their performance in light of McGruder going just 1-for-9 was a nice pick-me-up for a team that was beginning to drop squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Much work remains, but the Wildcats at least grew comfortable again with their home court after losing Big 12 games earlier in the season against Baylor and Oklahoma.
“I guess you could say there was a little pressure on us, but we responded in a good way,” Rodriguez said.
Given Rodriguez is a freshman and Spradling is a sophomore, Martin figured a little boost from the crowd was necessary while counting on the duo for the bulk of Kansas State’s play at the point.
“Our guys, they were laying it on the line in the second half,” Martin said. “I wanted that crowd to help our guys keep that energy.”
Ever since Will Spradling arrived at Kansas State, the shooting guard has required encouragement to shoot. Sometimes Spradling grows passive while attempting to get teammates into the offensive flow. Other times he seems to tire because of the work he puts in guarding opponents’ top perimeter threats. Still, Kansas State coach Frank Martin realizes for the sophomore to be most effective, he needs to launch shots.
“I don’t care if you miss, I really don’t,” Martin said. “Obviously I’d like you to make shots, that makes things a little bit easier. But if you’re open, you’re supposed to shoot.”
After going 1-for-13 from 3-point range the previous four games, Spradling scored 19 points on 4-for-5 shooting from behind the arc in the 64-53 victory against Texas A&M. He even converted a four-point play as part of a six-point trip during the first half after the Wildcats fell behind by 10.
It could be that the sellout crowd that attended Kansas State’s 64-53 win against Texas A&M on Feb. 4 was just saving its collective voice. The game was the first of a doubleheader in which Kansas State recorded two sellouts. Four hours after the tipoff of the men’s game, the women’s team took the floor against top-ranked Baylor and Brittney Griner. While Kansas State officials came away beaming after listing two sellouts of 12,528, the full house did not make a difference in the women’s game, as the Wildcats were drubbed 70-41.
After Kansas State’s 72-70 defeat at Iowa State on Jan. 31, Martin was critical of the officiating, in particular a no-call on a drive by G Rodney McGruder with slightly more than one minute remaining. McGruder, who entered the game as the second-leading scorer in Big 12 play, did not shoot a free throw in the game. “For him not to shoot a free throw is a joke, an absolute joke,” said Martin, among other comments. The Big 12 did not announce any penalty, though it might have delivered a private reprimand.
BY THE NUMBERS: .500 — Record (18-18) Kansas State carried in Big 12 road games under Frank Martin before the Jan. 31 loss at Iowa State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I’m going to keep the confidence and go into practice feeling better about myself and keep being aggressive. I am not going to relax like I did with the rest of the games where I haven’t been playing well.” — Kansas State G Will Spradling.