K-State faces tall task vs. Florida
K-State faces tall task vs. Florida
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's no secret that the Kansas State Wildcats were built in Frank Martin's image, one that valued defense and rebounding above all else.
Offense, while not exactly an afterthought, was more often a byproduct of their tenacity than anything they produced in a half-court set.
So it only makes sense that what never came naturally in the first place would take time to develop in a different system, namely new coach Bruce Weber's motion offense.
"I don't think we'll ever be an offensive juggernaut by any means, but we should be better than what we have," said Weber, whose Wildcats especially have struggled against elite opponents as evidenced by their losses to No. 2-ranked Michigan and No. 14 Gonzaga. "It's us learning, them learning and just figuring out what the best thing is for our team."
The Wildcats, 7-2, shot just 36.7 percent from the field in falling 71-57 to Michigan in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off and 33.3 percent last Saturday in their 68-52 setback against Gonzaga. They face a similar test at 7 tonight when they take on No. 8-ranked Florida (8-1) at the Sprint Center.
"It's a challenge, but it's a great opportunity for our guys," Weber said. "I think our biggest thing is, can we do it for 40 minutes.
"We've done it for 20 against teams, but we haven't been able to do it for 40 and that will be a big key for us in having success in a game like this."
K-State trailed Michigan by five at halftime and Gonzaga by just one, then wilted after intermission. That, not their half-court offense, has been the Wildcats' biggest bugaboo.
"That has been the second-biggest concern — getting people to know what to do next in our offense and getting people to the right spots," he said. "But our biggest assignment is staying together for two halves.
"Against Gonzaga and Michigan we only played well for the first half of each game and we shot the ball poorly in both games and took a lot of bad shots. We've just got to focus on taking good shots at the beginning of the halves and we'll be all right."
The Wildcats are shooting 42.2 percent as a team, down from 43.9 all of last year. Leading scorer Rodney McGruder has run hot and cold, going 1 for 9 from the floor against Gonzaga but coming back with a 26-point effort Tuesday night in a 78-69 home-court victory over Texas Southern.
Southwell, a 6-foot-6 junior who drew his first start of the season against Texas Southern, scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds with three assists. His 6.5 points per game rank fifth on the team and he leads the Wildcats both in field goal percentage at 52.5 and in 3-point accuracy with 43.8 percent.
"I think we're getting better," said Southwell, who started in place of the injured Nino Williams, creating a four-guard lineup with McGruder, Angel Rodriguez and Will Spradling surrounding post player Thomas Gipson. "That showed by Rodney having a big game against Texas Southern.
"Once we get him going and get a couple of other guys going, we'll be fine."
Defensively, the Wildcats have held opponents to 39.1 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from 3-point range. They also have an average rebounding advantage of close to nine a game.
"It's enough to keep you in games," Southwell said. "If you do that for two halves, you can win games.
"But against bigger teams and better teams like the Floridas and Gonzagas, you're going to have to score the ball and make shots.
"Hopefully we can do that (tonight)."
The two don't need to be mutually exclusive, according to Weber. Offensive rebounding and defense have fueled many a Wildcat victory in recent years.
"If you stop people, you break their spirit a little bit and now you may get an easy transition basket, so that's important," he said.
Even when they execute their offense, they still have to convert.
"When you shoot shots and you make baskets, you definitely feel like the offense is doing better," Weber said. "When you don't make 'em, you can run great offense and miss shots and say, "Awww ..."
The Wildcats will have to be on top of their game against a Florida team that has dominating victories over Wisconsin (74-56), Marquette (82-49) and Florida State (74-47) while losing only at No. 4 Arizona. The Gators have four starters scoring in double figures, led by guards Mike Rosario (12.9 ppg) and Kenny Boynton (12.6), with post player Erik Murphy adding 11.6 and forward Patric Young 10 points and 6.9 rebounds.
"I really believe they might be the best team we've faced," Weber said. "They just keep coming at you in so many ways and never let you relax."