Signature win for Wildcats on Tuesday

By Steve Sell
January 17, 2018

It had to happen sometime.

Trae Young proved he was merely mortal.

Oklahoma’s freshman phenom guard looked like just another good player on Tuesday against Kansas State, which harassed, bumped, grinded and pounded Young into his first less-than-stellar game as the Wildcats not only upset the No. 4-ranked Sooners, but they dominated them 85-67 to knock OU out of a tie at the top of the Big 12 standings.

Young scored 20 points, but needed 21 shots — many of them wild, forced shots. He spent more time turning it over (an astounding 12) and truth be told, he looked disengaged from the get-go and credit Kansas State for that. He’s used to being able to go anywhere he wants and the Wildcats didn’t allow that as they simply wanted it more than he did. They also made him devote more time to the defensive end than he would like as he doesn’t seem to be a big fan of getting down in a stance and guarding.

If Texas can upset Texas Tech tonight in Austin — that would have sounded strange to say before the season — presto, the Kansas Jayhawks are alone at the top despite repeated claims by everyone other than KU fans that this is the year their stranglehold on the Big 12 title is loosened.

This was a signature win for Kansas State and it will puff up its resume come tournament time if the Wildcats are on the bubble. But if they play with this kind of effort, intensity and focus, they won’t have to sweat it out on Selection Sunday.

Kansas State is now 3-3 in the Big 12 and has been flying under the radar. It went nose-to-nose with KU in Allen Field House and could easily have come away with a win there. It does have stretches where its offense goes into a funk, but the Wildcats certainly can claim to be one of the best defensive teams in the Big 12.

The infusion of Cartier Diarra into the starting lineup for the injured and respected Kamau Stokes may actually be the spark. If and when Stokes comes back — it may be a while — coach Bruce Weber may think about using him as a sixth man as Diarra seemingly has found a home in the starting lineup.

If you’re a Wildcat fan, you dare to dream what this team could be like with an Udoka Azubuike-like presence in the middle. Dean Wade is one of the best power forwards in the Big 12 and maybe the country when he plays with passion. Barry Brown Jr. could be an All-Big 12 guard. Xavier Sneed is that sleek athlete that every team needs and Diarra has provided the juice. Only in the middle are the Wildcats lacking, though their bench at this point doesn’t provide much, either, which is where Stokes could help if he does come back.

This is a big year for Weber. He’s had a lukewarm relationship with Kansas State fans since tying KU for the Big 12 in his first year, mainly with Frank Martin’s players. They missed the tournament two years in a row before slipping in last year into the play-in round, where they knocked off Wake Forest. It seems that Wildcat fans I know are hoping for someone better, but Weber can win them over simply by winning games.

Bramlage Coliseum can be a rocking place (as it was on Tuesday) when the Wildcats are winning. There’s still an eternity left in the Big 12 race and they are just two games out of the lead. They have a struggling, but capable, TCU team coming in on Saturday and they can’t afford to lose that one. K-State could be in the race to stay if it continues to play with the effort it exhibited on Tuesday.