Big 12 final: It's Wildcats over Cowboys ...
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Telegram
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas State Wildcats didn't care if they had to cross the border.
They wanted another Sunflower Showdown and they got it.
By grabbing the lead for good late in the first half and turning back every Oklahoma State comeback, the No. 11-ranked Wildcats advanced to the Big 12 championship game Friday night with a 68-57 semifinal victory over the No. 14 Cowboys at Sprint Center.
That sets up a third meeting with No. 7 Kansas in today's 5 p.m. final. The top-seeded Jayhawks swept K-State during the regular season but shared the Big 12 title with the Wildcats.
"You're conference co-champs and now you get a chance to play the team that tied you in a big game for the tournament," said K-State coach Bruce Weber, whose Wildcats improved to 27-6.
Rodney McGruder scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds with Angel Rodriguez adding seven points, six rebounds and four assists to lead the Wildcats, who advanced to the championship game for the first time since 2010. Center Jordan Henriquez shook off nagging back spasms to contribute eight points,11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
"It feels good, but we have a game tomorrow so we've got to get prepared for Kansas," said McGruder, who gave K-State the lead for good with less than five minutes left in the first half, then scored the Wildcats' first nine points of the second period.
McGruder started the second half with three straight baskets to give the Wildcats a 34-23 lead and added a three-point play with 18:25 left to push the lead to 12. Oklahoma State (24-8) got no closer than six the rest of the way.
"We got out in transition (and) we forced them to take some bad shots," McGruder said of the spurt. "That allowed us to push the ball a little bit on the break and we got baskets."
Rodriguez said fatigue also may have been a factor for the Cowboys, who had to hold off a furious second-half rally against Baylor in Thursday's late quarterfinal game.
"We saw they were getting tired by the end of the first half," he said. "The beauty of our team is we're deep and a lot of people can play for us and help us, and that's what we did.
"We got in transition, and pretty much every time we got into transition, something positive happened."
In Thursday's quarterfinal victory over Texas, it was freshman post D.J. Johnson who provided the depth with Henriquez limited to 10 minutes with his back pain and Thomas Gipson in foul trouble. Henriquez came back against Oklahoma State to play 22 minutes.
"I couldn't be more proud of Jordan," Weber said. "He's really struggled the last couple of weeks and we tried a little different (treatment) procedure today and obviously it worked.
"Each day it seems like it's a different guy. Obviously Angel and Rodney are consistent guys, but we've got guys like D.J. and Jordan that step up and it definitely makes a difference and gives you a chance."
For Oklahoma State, which beat K-State in the regular-season finale last week in Stillwater, Okla., Marcus Smart had 18 points and six rebounds with Le'Bryan Nash adding 11 points.
Two free throws and a 3-pointer by Nash pulled the Cowboys within 61-53 with 1:47 left, but Rodriguez, McGruder and Martavious Irving combined to go 7 of 8 from the foul line the rest of the way to ice it.
K-State took the first-half lead with a 10-point spurt late in the period for a 28-23 advantage at the break.
After Philip Jurick's second tip-in over a stretch of just two minutes gave Iowa State a 17-12 cushion, but Shane Southwell answered with a 3-pointer that got the Wildcats rolling as Rodriguez scored on a fast break and McGruder hit a step-back jumper, then found Irving for an open transition three to make it 22-17 with 3:59 left in the period.
Back-to-back baskets by McGruder and Henriquez gave K-State its biggest lead, 28-21.
Henriquez had four points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the first half. McGruder scored seven points with Rodriguez and Irving adding six each for the Wildcats.
Smart led Oklahoma State at the half with 12 points. Jurick, who averages 2.9 points and 5.9 rebounds, had our points and six boards in the period, including five offensive rebounds.
For the game, K-State shot 39.3 percent but 50 percent in the second half, while Oklahoma State finished at 30.5 percent from the floor. Each team had 40 rebounds.