When it comes to post-season play, every team needs its best player to step up. Senior guard Rodney McGruder commanded that role as he led the No. 11 K-State Wildcats to a 66-49 victory over the Texas Longhorns.
This is the first time that K-State has advanced to the Big 12 Championship tournament semi-finals since the 2009-10 season. McGruder finished the game with a game-high 24 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
“It was a good win. We’ve talked about Texas and how much improvement they’ve made over the stretch, obviously with [Myck] Kabongo back [it] changed their team,” said K-State head coach Bruce Weber. “So proud of the guys. You keep finding somebody to step up.”
The Longhorns came out in a 3-2 zone defense that had the Wildcats puzzled at first. Texas started the game on a 7-1 run; however, the Wildcats countered with a 10-2 run to give them an 11-9 lead. The Longhorns would never regain the lead.
This is the third time K-State has defeated the Longhorns this season. The Wildcats won all three matchups by an average of 18.3 points.
“I told the guys I thought they would play zone,” Weber said. “I thought we just didn’t do a good job of penetrating. When we did, it was usually late in the shot clock and we were able to get some kind of action and get something happening.”
In the team’s last matchup with K-State, Texas’ sophomore guard Myck Kabongo finished with 24 points and six rebounds, but the Wildcats were able to keep him quiet on Thursday night. In what could be Kabongo’s last game as a Texas Longhorn, the star guard finished with only 2 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
“[K-State] is a good basketball team; they did a good job. I still think that we had a lot of shots that we wanted and got in there. We got in there and you just have to finish the plays, and just taking care of the ball,” Kabongo said. “We didn’t win, so it doesn’t matter how you played as an individual. We didn’t win; it’s a collective thing. We need everyone to play well and that’s what it takes to win, and we didn’t do that.”
Another player who stepped up for the Wildcats was freshman forward D.J. Johnson. After playing double-digit minutes just once during Big 12 play this season, Johnson played 15 minutes on Thursday in which he scored 8 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
“I thought that I put in a lot of effort, and just did what the coaches asked from me and rebound,” Johnson said. “We do a lot. When I got here I didn’t know too much about the game, and the coaches do a great job of teaching it to all of us. It’s been a lot of learning and a lot of teaching, too.”
Coming off of a sluggish performance against Oklahoma State, guard Angel Rodriguez bounced back in a big way. After going 0-4 from behind the arc last Saturday, Rodriguez hit his first two shots from long range to ignite the Wildcats’ offense. The sophomore from San Juan finished with 13 points, five assists and only one turnover.
“We watched film, and the threes I was taking against Oklahoma State were kind of far, and sometimes it’s not always going to be a good day,” Rodriguez said. “I’m always going to play with high confidence.”
The Wildcats will face off with the No. 14 Oklahoma State Cowboys on Friday for their second time in a week. In the last matchup, the Cowboys bested the Wildcats 76-70.
The winner of Friday’s game will advance to the Big 12 Championship game on Saturday at 5 p.m.