NORMAN, Okla. — Angel Rodriguez knew what he needed to do.
After Oklahoma used an 8-0 run to tie the game at 50 against No. 18 Kansas State, the sophomore guard knew Wildcats’ coach Bruce Weber wasn’t going to use a timeout, so he did what he was told, driving to the basket and getting fouled with 5 seconds left.
Rodriguez made both shots, and disrupted the Sooners’ final attempt to help the Wildcats earn a 52-50 win on the road on Saturday.
In quite possibly the ugliest game the Wildcats (17-4, 6-2 Big 12) have played this season, a 50-42 lead with 2:48 to play turned out not to be enough to turn away the Sooners (14-6, 5-3).
Oklahoma forward Romero Osby turned in a 3-point play with 1:58 left in the game, and then K-State senior Rodney McGruder threw the ball away on the Sooners’ side of the court a few possessions later, leading to a 3-pointer from Sam Grooms to make it a two-point game with 54 seconds left.
Grooms sunk another shot with 13 seconds on the clock, and it was Rodriguez’s time to make a play.
The K-State sophomore took the ball and dribbled up the court waiting to see what his defender would do. When the OU defender looked the wrong way, Rodriguez’s drive to the basket and jumped up for the layup, getting fouled by Oklahoma’s Amath M’Baye. Rodriguez made both shots to put the Wildcats up two.
He said they were just another pair of free throws, and that he thrives for moments under pressure like that.
“As soon as I blew by my man I knew they were going to foul me, because they’re aggressive they try to make a play, try to block a shot, especially on me because I’m little,” Rodriguez said. “I was fortunate to get fouled and then go to the free throw line and make them both.”
Weber said Rodriguez knew what he was supposed to do on the play, and he wasn’t going to call a timeout unless it looked like nothing was there.
“To Angel’s credit, he made a good play down the stretch,” I told him to push it and see what happens. I think sometimes you call timeout and it gives the defense a chance to set or switch. Angel got to the bucket and was fortunate enough to get a foul.”
With the time remaining, Oklahoma tried to work the ball up-court in a hurry, but Rodriguez confused Osby and caused him to burn two seconds of the clock before he could get a pass to Grooms, who attempted a game-winning 3. The shot missed the basket completely.
Rodriguez said it was the kind of game they expected in a battle of two teams playing for second place in the league. Big 12 leader Kansas lost to Oklahoma State on Saturday, putting the Wildcats a game out of first place.
“We knew it was going to be a tough one, we never thought it was going to be easy,” he said. “It should have been a little easier, but they made a run and we were fortunate to win.”
Rodriguez scored just four points for K-State in the win, while Will Spradling had a team-high 12 points and Martavious Irving scored 10. Rodney McGruder was held to seven points after scoring only seven against Texas.
For the second straight game, the Wildcats found themselves without the services of McGruder and Spradling for much of the first half. After knocking down his only basket of the first period, McGruder committed his second foul and sat for the last 13 minutes of the half. After scoring his second basket of the game, Spradling was hit with his second foul and went to the bench for 11 minutes.
The Wildcats were still able to build a lead on the Sooners, getting a 7-2 run at the end of the half and holding Oklahoma scoreless for the final six minutes to lead 28-23 at halftime.
That scoreless span would last nearly 11 minutes for the Sooners, spilling into the second half. But the Wildcats seemed unable to take advantage of the moment and led just 30-25 when Osby ended to streak with 14:26 to play in the game.
Spradling said the group of guys who played with he and McGruder out against Texas on Wednesday, just couldn’t find the same stroke they did against the Longhorns. But he credited them for their ability to keep the Sooners from going on a run.
“That group that was in, it was kind of a weird group for us because we had me and Rod in foul trouble, and they couldn’t really get the flow going offensively,” he said. “They did a great job defensively and that’s what those players are known for, how they change games with their defense.”
The Wildcats tinkered with pushing their lead to double figures in the second half, but could never get it there. Weber said Oklahoma played as good of defense as he’d seen in some time, and much better than they did in the first matchup in Manhattan.
Oklahoma kept pushing its way back into the game in the final six minutes, but Weber thought his team did a better job of keeping its composure than it did in its last game on the road, at Iowa State.
“I kept telling them it’s not about scoring, it’s about our team winning,” he said. “You’ve got to make the next play, you’ve got to keep your poise. At Iowa State I felt we lost our poise a couple times.
“We guarded, (Oklahoma) guarded — we made enough plays when it counted.”