AUSTIN, Texas — Apparently there’s just something about Kansas State playing at Texas that brings out the whistles.
For the second straight year, fouls dictated the pace of the game. But this time around, the 13th-ranked Wildcats were the better team in an 81-69 win over the Longhorns on Saturday at the Frank Erwin Center.
The Wildcats (22-5, 11-3 Big 12) were called for 26 fouls to Texas’ 17 in the game, but K-State used rebounding, assists and a solid 3-point shot to grab a lead in the game that it never let go.
Five of the Longhorns’ fouls came in the final four minutes when Texas was trying to come back.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said Texas was an improved team this time around.
“I tried to explain, you’ve got to be yourself, take care of business, control what you can control, but you’ve also got to know your opponent,” Weber said. “They’re a different team than we played the first time, they were more aggressive. They just kept coming at us.
“I talked about being relentless and keep pushing them, and I thought our guys kept doing that.”
K-State practically put the game away in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the second half, scoring eight straight points to push ahead 48-34. From there, the Wildcats responded to each Texas basket or free throw with one or two of their own, pushing the lead out to 65-46 with 10:17 to play.
But the Longhorns made a run from there, scoring seven straight points to cut the K-State lead to 65-53 with 6:25 left. The Wildcats got back-to-back 3s from Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder, both on assists from Angel Rodriguez, to go ahead 73-55.
Texas made its way back into the game with a quick 6-0 run to again cut the deficit down to 12 points with 2:47 left.
K-State won the rebounding battle 34-31, but led by as many as 31-18 early in the second half. The Wildcats also had 19 assists, with six each coming from Rodriguez and Shane Southwell.
McGruder led the Wildcats with 20 points, while Rodriguez had 16. Southwell scored 11 points and Thomas Gipson added 10.
The noticeable difference for the Longhorns this time was in point guard Myck Kabongo, who scored a game-high 24 points. Kabongo finished with just two assists, though, and Texas had only seven as a team.
Weber said Kabongo can make a big impact when he’s balanced in scoring and passing.
“We’ve got to do a better job containing him,” he said. “Some of his points came at the end when we are trying to get the clock going, he made a couple 3s which surprised us all, but at the same time, he can change the tempo of the game so fast with his quickness. For them to make progress, he probably also needs to dish it off.”
The Wildcats made 9 of 18 from 3-point range, and added a 20-for-22 performance from the foul line. Weber said both were difference makers.
“It was huge on the road,” he said. “We didn’t miss a free throw in the second half. Both games I think our spacing, our ball movement put them in a bind.”
Last season, the Longhorns made 35 of 48 free throws against the Wildcats at home in a game that saw K-State whistled for 33 fouls to just 16 for Texas. Despite the foul differential this time, the Longhorns made just 19 of 33 shots from the free-throw line.
Still, Weber said K-State has to be careful with its foul situation and know when to adjust if a game is being called tight.
McGruder said being a senior helps him know how to play through a game where the majority of the fouls are being called on his team. He said Weber has done a good job of keeping the team aware of foul situations.
“It can be tough, but being a veteran player in the league, I know how to maintain, play aggressive,” McGruder said. “Coach is doing a tremendous job in timeouts, letting us know how the refs are calling the game and making sure we don’t get those tic-tac fouls.”
The Wildcats got off to a great start in the game, taking an 11-4 lead after back-to-back 3s from Rodriguez.
Texas tried to make its way back in the game, but struggled at the foul line early, missing seven of its first eight attempts. The Longhorns finally got the freebies to fall and pulled with three points of K-State in the final minutes of the half, 35-32.
Rodriguez made a pair of free throws and Southwell knocked down a running 3 at the buzzer to put the Wildcats ahead 40-32 at the break.
McGruder led K-State in scoring for the first half with 11 points. Rodriguez had 10.
The Longhorns led in the first 19 seconds of the game, but never held the lead after that.
Wildcats stay atop Big 12 race
With wins from Kansas and K-State on Saturday, both teams remain at the top of the Big 12 standings at 11-3.
Both teams play on Monday night, with the Wildcats hosting Texas Tech and the Jayhawks traveling to Iowa State.
Sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez said the team is playing for its goal of winning a Big 12 title.
“We’re trying to win a championship,” he said. “We’ve got to play at a high level and we have so far. If we keep doing what we do, we should be alright.”
Cats own Texas
With Saturday’s win over Texas, the Wildcats have now won 12 of the last 15 meetings with the Longhorns in men’s basketball and football.
K-State has lost just one game in Austin, losing to Texas in men’s basketball last season, 75-64.
Weber passes Huggins
Bruce Weber passed Bob Huggins for the most regular season wins by a coach in his first year at K-State on Saturday.
Huggins won 21 before the Big 12 tournament in his first season as the coach in 2006-07, and finished with 23 wins.
Weber now has 22 wins in his first season at K-State, with four games left on the schedule before the Big 12 tournament.
in the lineup
Senior center Jordan Henriquez was in the starting lineup for K-State on Saturday, making his second-straight start since the death of his grandmother in New York last Sunday.
Henriquez missed just one full practice this week, and finished the game with six points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes.
Spradling takes another knock
Will Spradling left a game with an injury for the second time this season, suffering a shoulder injury in the first half.
Spradling returned to the game and finished with eight points, including a key 3-pointer in the final six minutes of the game.
Spradling broke his nose in the Jan. 30 home game against Texas, and managed to return in that game too.