Cats try to solve perimeter issues

By Joel Jellison

A season ago Kansas State was one of the best teams in the country at defending the 3-point shot.

One season later, that’s all changed. And it’s something the Wildcats are trying to change sooner than later.

K-State’s allowing teams to shoot 39 percent from the perimeter this season, but it’s the number in Big 12 games that’s becoming alarming as the Wildcats prepare to play at West Virginia on Saturday at 11 a.m. on ESPN.

Conference teams are shooting 45.6 percent against the Wildcats this season, which would break the Big 12 record of 42 percent.

“That’s a difference maker,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Someone goes 50 percent from three and you only go 33, that could be a big difference. In our league every game is close and it’s coming down to a handful of points almost in every situation.”

The struggle to defend the perimeter is a big emphasis for the Wildcats. But the issues came after Weber and his coaches made a change to fix an issue from last season.

K-State struggled to defend shots in the paint and from mid-range last year. Weber said they thought the changes could help, and they have lowered teams’ 2-point percentage, but opponents have figured out ways to get open 3s.

“We’ve looked at it,” Weber said. “One of our big things was after last year we were so bad against the two, and we were one of the best in the country against the three. We changed a little bit of our scheme and the way we helped. I think we’re better with steals, we’re in better position, but we haven’t gotten to the shooters like we need to. We’ve got to do a better job of closing out and getting to the shooters.”

Sophomore guard Barry Brown said the players feel a sense of accountability and know the importance of improving their defense along the perimeter.

“It’s ultimately us guards,” Brown said. “We have to buckle down and guard our man and not allow dribble penetration and offensive rebounds for other teams. That definitely is key. They get an offensive rebound when we’re all in there, they pass it out for a wide-open opportunity.”

Brown was referring to a play against Kansas on Monday when the Jayhawks made a late 3 to break a tie off of an offensive board. At Iowa State this season, the Wildcats’ defense from long range became a liability that helped the Cyclones take a 17-point lead.

Sophomore guard Kamau Stokes said they’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to fix it.

“Our ball pressure, sometimes we get a little lazy,” Stokes said. “We don’t close out hard enough. We give teams open shots. We’ve just got to focus on the little things on defense.”

The Wildcats will look to play better defense from long range against a Mountaineer team they already defeated in Manhattan this season.

K-State is one of the few teams in Big 12 play that’s been able to break down the West Virginia press. Weber said his team dealt with the relentless pressure by controlling how much the Mountaineers were able to apply it.

“We guarded the heck out of them,” Weber said. “If you stop them they’re still going to press you. You have to go through three steps when they score. When you’re able to stop them there might only be one line of pressure or trapping that you have to deal with.”

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