AUSTIN (AP) — Week by week and win by win, No. 13 Kansas State keeps inching closer to something not experienced by the Wildcats in a generation: a conference basketball championship.
On Saturday night, it was an easy 81-69 victory over Texas that pushed Kansas State (22-5, 11-3 Big 12) just a little bit farther along.
The Wildcats trailed only for a matter of seconds after the game’s first basket, made nine-3-pointers against the toughest perimeter defense in the country and had four players score in double figures in a game they controlled by early in the second half.
“We’re trying to win a championship you know?” said Kansas State guard Angel Rodriguez, who had 16 points and six assists. “We’ve got to play at a high level. We’ve still got a couple of games. If we keep doing what we do, we should be all right.”
Kansas State shares first place in the Big 12 with No. 9 Kansas and the Wildcats have four games left to chase their first regular season conference championship since winning the old Big Eight title in 1976-77. Kansas State’s best finish in the Big 12 has been a tie for second in 2010.
The Wildcats have already tied their school record for Big 12 wins.
Against Texas, Kansas State shot 50 percent from 3-point range and was a blistering 20 of 22 from the free throw line to snuff out any hopes of a Texas rally. Kansas State had 19 assists on its 26 baskets, consistently whipping the ball around for the open shot, often from long range.
Rodney McGruder led the Wildcats with 20 points.
“They moved the basketball,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “They were more aggressive on defense this time than the first time, we kept our composure, made the extra pass that got some easy goals.”
Myck Kabongo had 24 points, the most he’s scored in four games since returning from a 23-game NCAA suspension, but also had just two assists. Texas (12-15, 4-10) is 2-2 since his return, languishing near the bottom of the Big 12 in the Longhorns’ worst season in 15 years under coach Rick Barnes.
Sheldon McClellan, who played just 1 minute in a mid-week win over TCU and has been in and out of trouble with Barnes all season, scored 15 points.
While the Wildcats are chasing a title, Barnes said he will spend Texas’ final few games watching to see who hasn’t quit on the season.
“Who’s in?” Barnes asked. “If guys check out, decisions will be made.”
Kansas State beat Texas by 26 points in their first meeting and came into this one with an eye for testing the Longhorns from long range. Kansas State’s first three field goals were 3-pointers.
The Wildcats built a 29-19 lead and looked to be in complete control in the first half but a rash of fouls sent Texas to the free throw line 22 times in the half.
Texas trimmed the lead to three points in the final minute before Rodriguez made two free throws and a Texas turnover set up a 3-pointer by Shane Southwell at the buzzer. Texas was trying to set up for the final shot, but Kabongo dribbled the ball off his left foot. Omari Lawrence scooped up the loose ball and passed to Southwell for the running-3-pointer that made it 40-32.
“That was big,” Texas freshman Ioannis Papapetrou said. “Coach talked about it after the game. It changed the momentum. Instead of a one-possession game, it was a three-possession game.”
The Wildcats quickly asserted control in the second half, opening a 15-point lead. Rodriguez sparked the run with an easy steal at midcourt and layup and Will Spradling was surrounded by three Texas players and still won a scramble a loose ball at their feet to set up a layup by Thomas Gipson. Southwell made two more 3-pointers and the Wildcats led 65-46 with about 10 minutes to play.
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