Big-time players step up and make big-time plays. It’s been an adage ever since then-Miami Hurricane football player Santana Moss uttered a similar phrase after stepping up himself. In Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday, Angel Rodriguez, a Miami native and K-State point guard who plays with a confidence that sometimes may seem larger than his ability, added his own chapter to the legacy of the oft-used phrase.
The No. 16 Wildcats had their lead whittled down from 14 points to 7, with 6:24 left to play. OU forward Romero Osby blocked a Rodriguez attempt on a desperate drive on K-State’s next possession. Rodriguez, up to that point, had shot just 1-of-11 from the field. He was 0-for-3 from the 3-point range.
K-State needed a spark. When the Wildcats got the ball back, the score remained the same, and Rodriguez didn’t waste any time extending the K-State lead. He took the ball on an outlet from sophomore forward Thomas Gipson, made his way down the right side of the court and without hesitation moved a step inside the free-throw line and blew past Osby and OU forward Cameron Clark for a score off of the glass, moving the score to 54-45.
After Oklahoma’s Steven Pledger and the Wildcats’ Will Spradling traded a 3 for a long 2, and two free throws by Amath M’Baye cut the K-State lead to 6, Rodriguez went to the paint again. This drive was within the framework of K-State head coach Bruce Weber’s motion offense. Receiving a pass at the top of the key, Rodriguez turned down a screen from Gipson to the left side, crossed over Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and drove past a host of Sooner defenders for his second layup in a row, moving the score to 58-50.
Osby answered with a jumper to cut the lead back to 6, but on the ensuing possession Rodriguez sank his first 3-pointer of the game. The off-the-dribble 23-footer was scored with seven seconds left on the Wildcat shot clock, giving the Wildcats a 9-point lead at 61-52.
The three huge buckets in 3 minutes 43 seconds of game time were vital to holding off OU head coach and K-State alum Lon Kruger’s Sooners. However, that isn’t to say that Rodriguez wasn’t heavenly in other aspects of the game before his shots started falling. He was tough on defense, picking up three steals and frustrating the Sooners by constantly hedging on screens and closely covering OU ball-handlers without a hint of the foul trouble that has plagued him in recent weeks.
He was conscious with the basketball, committing just one turnover and dishing nine assists in 32 minutes of play. Rodriguez recognized the hot hands of teammates Rodney McGruder, Shane Southwell and Will Spradling, who carried K-State’s scoring load for much of the game. One of the best team plays was a bigger than a highlight-reel drive, stop, between the legs dribble and dish to a cutting McGruder, whose reverse layup gave the Wildcats a 64-54 lead with 1:29 to play.
Rodriguez celebrated late in K-State’s 69-60 win over Oklahoma.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big games,” was the quote from fellow Miamian, Moss, and it was apt to describe Rodriguez’ effort that helped K-State to its 69-60 win over Oklahoma on Saturday.
Rodriguez displayed every ounce of that Miami toughness, that moxie, on Saturday. It’s why Louisville head coach Rick Pitino once coveted him on the recruiting trail, why some K-State fans worried that former K-State head coach Frank Martin might take Rodriguez along with him to South Carolina last spring and why Weber has so openly said that the Wildcats need Rodriguez to play well to find success.
With the mammoth Tuesday-night showdown with No. 4 Kansas in Manhattan that will grant one Sunflower State team sole possession of first place in the Big 12 looming, Rodriguez should have ample opportunity to, once again, step up to the challenge at Bramlage Coliseum.