K-State takes big step, beats No. 21 Gonzaga
By ARNE GREEN
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
WICHITA — It was exactly a year ago that the Kansas State Wildcats, with a veteran team, used their signature victory over Florida as a springboard to a Big 12 championship.
Whether history repeats itself remains to be seen, but the much younger 2013-14 Wildcats certainly took a step in the right direction against No. 21-ranked Gonzaga.
By employing a stifling defense and making all the key plays down the stretch, K-State pulled away in the closing minutes Saturday for an impressive 72-62 victory at Intrust Bank Arena.
"It was exactly like the Florida game," said senior forward Shane Southwell, who finished with 11 points and six assists without a turnover for K-State. "Just coach (Bruce) Weber didn't threaten us with Chinese food and Papa John's."
It seems Weber told last year's team that if they didn't raise their game in Kansas City against the Gators, they wouldn't get to go home for Christmas but would stay in Manhattan and eat nothing but Chinese food and pizza.
"We played with good energy right from the get-go, our guys were very focused and obviously (it was) a great defensive effort, especially in the first half," said Weber, whose Wildcats improved to 8-3 with their sixth straight victory. "It was just a great team win and hopefully something to enjoy, but then also build on as we continue into our march through December."
The Wildcats battled through six second-half lead changes, going in front for good, 54-52, on Nigel Johnson's three-point play on a drive from the right wing with 8:23 left. That sparked a seven-point run that included two Wesley Iwundu free throws and an inside move by Thomas Gipson that made it 58-52 at the 7:15 mark.
After center Przemek Karnowski scored on a pick-and-roll dunk that cut it to four points with 6:11 on the clock, Gonzaga did not score again until 48.5 seconds on a David Stockton layup. By that time, K-State had run off eight more points - six by Gipson - for a 66-54 cushion.
"I think everybody has seen how great of a defensive team we are, honestly, as a program these last two years," Southwell said.
Gonzaga (10-2) had only been held under 80 points once - 68 a week earlier in a victory over South Alabama - and despite connecting on 48 percent of its shots from the field never got in a rhythm.
"We knew it was going to be a tough, physical matchup," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "That's how Bruce's teams always play.
"We did a nice job of fighting our way back and putting ourselves in a position to win the game with about four fie minutes to go, but they just made all the plays from that point forward."
The Bulldogs played the last 24 minutes without forward Sam Dower, their second-leading scorer and rebounder, who went down hard when he was fouled by D.J. Johnson on a drive to the basket. Throw in a sub-par shooting day for guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell and it was an uphill battle.
Pangos, who came in averaging 18.7 points, and Bell (14.5) were scoreless as K-State took a 29-24 halftime lead. Pangos did finish with 14 to lead the Zags, with Drew Barham adding 13 off the bench.
"Basically coach (Chris) Lowery and coach Weber said to us, who was going to break first," Southwell said. "We're one of the better defensive teams in the country and they're one of the better offensive teams in the country, so it was all about who was going to break first."
For K-State Gipson and freshman guard Marcus Foster led the way with 14 points each, while freshman forward Wesley Iwundu had 13. Foster was 1 of 8 from the field with four points in the first half but hit 4 of 7 after the break, including a driving thunder dunk on a feed from Southwell that put the Wildcats up 40-32 with 15:58 left.
"I was just trying to get myself going," said Foster, who before that drained a 3-pointer, stole the inbounds pass and scored on a reverse layup. "Coming in at halftime I had my head down and people were telling me to get my head up and everything would be fine.
"So my mindset was get yourself going on defense and the offense will come."
Gipson, who battled foul trouble in the first half and had just two points, also came alive in the second period.
"The coaches were harping on me to continue to ball screen and roll, and just post deep," Gipson said. "In the first half I couldn't do it because I got in early foul trouble.
"In the second half I really used an effort to do it, to get my teammates open and make them create where I could get an offensive rebound or an easy hook."
K-State shot 44 percent from the field, but more importantly turned the ball over just four times to 12 for Gonzaga. The Wildcats also outscored the Bulldogs from the free-throw line, 19-7, and had a 32-31 rebounding edge.
"I hope so," Weber said. "We felt we were better than our start."