KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Angel Rodriguez finished the second half of the season on a tear, playing the best basketball of his young career, as he arguably became one of the best point guards in the Big 12.
Friday afternoon was very different, though, as Rodriguez struggled to get going offensively in the fourth-seeded Wildcats’ 63-61 upset loss to 13-seed La Salle at the Sprint Center.
The sophomore finished with just two points — both from the free-throw line — as K-State went one-and-done from the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996. Rodriguez missed all six shots from the field, including a wild desperation attempt as the clock expired.
K-State’s Thomas Gipson collected the rebound on a missed free throw by La Salle’s Jerrell Wright and then pushed the ball to Rodriguez, who raced down the floor with less than 10 seconds to play. Nothing was open, as Rodriguez dribbled to the right side in front of the Wildcats’ bench and then threw up an off-balance shot trying to tie the game with 2 seconds left.
It wasn’t even close.
“I was just trying to see the open spot, the open guy, but they switched everything and played pretty good defense on our last possession,” said Rodriguez, who played with a torn ligament in the left wrist the past month. “You have to give them credit.”
“I couldn’t see anything. If I would have seen something, we would have tried something, but I had to shoot a crazy shot and hope I had some luck and it would go in.”
That shot summed up the day Rodriguez was having offensively. A player who had averaged better than 15 points, nearly six assists and less than three turnovers a game since Feb. 5, proved to be a non-factor on the game’s biggest stage. Rodriguez did have four assists, but he also turned the ball over three times in a low-turnover, every-possession-matters type of game. La Salle (23-9) had only eight as a team and K-State (27-8) had nine.
Thursday marked the first time since K-State’s win at Oklahoma on Feb. 2 that Rodriguez failed to reach double figures — a span of 13 games.
“Offensively, it was probably the second-worst game of my career,” he said. “But I’ve always said I’m never going to let offense dictate my game.”
For all that Rodriguez struggled with offensively, his defensive prowess in the second half proved valuable after a first half in which the Explorers shot nearly 60 percent from the field.
Rodriguez clamped down on La Salle’s Ramon Galloway in the second half, holding the senior guard to four points after he got loose for 15 in the first half.
“My mentality in the second half was to stop Galloway,” Rodriguez said. “I told Coach and the players that I wanted him. It’s not always about offense.”
But sometimes it is, like when the Wildcats scored only 26 points in the first half in an NCAA tournament game against a 13-seed that needed a play-in game to reach the field of 64.
“We weren’t being us,” Rodriguez said. “And I’m not even talking about the offensive end. We weren’t getting stops and couldn’t score. In the second half, we started being ourselves.
“We took a half for granted and it cost us the whole tournament.”