We’re closing in on the 72-hour mark in my postmortem of Kansas State’s 59-35 victory over Kansas on Saturday, and maybe I’m finally ready to stop thinking about it since the Jayhawks are soon to tip off their next game.
My last post was about Tennessee’s perfect series record against Mississippi State – which remained perfect in a blowout Sunday _ and how I would next write about how that reminded me of some random other “weird” things I’ve seen or noticed over many years of following women’s basketball.
Admittedly, what’s weird to one person isn’t necessarily going to be weird to someone else. I think the things I’ll mention will qualify as weird to most folks. Although maybe “weird” isn’t exactly the right word. Maybe it’s some combination of weird/inexplicable/nonsensical/”headscratchable.” At any rate, I had no idea Friday that the game I’d see on Saturday in Manhattan, Kan., would work its way into my “weird” collection. But it did.
If you are not a Big 12 follower, you might say, “Really? I figured KU was better this season. But it’s an in-state rivalry. Weird things can happen in those games. What’s the big deal?”
I can sum it up by paraphrasing what one Kansas State fan told me: If there were ever a season in which even Wildcat fans would have said, “Kansas should win by 20,” this was it. Another K-State fan told me that she was actually sick to her stomach before the game because she was dreading how the young Wildcats might get their confidence crushed.
In other words, most who follow the league expected not just a KU win, but a win by a large margin. If they imagined K-State winning it was only by a basket at the buzzer or something. Nobody foresaw KU being dismantled. Or should I say, largely dismantling itself.
Now, I hasten to add I mean no disrespect at all to the victorious Wildcats and leading scorer/Saturday’s hero, Ashley Sweat. She is a very intelligent, analytical and quite funny person. She’s also a talented basketball player who, as coach Deb Patterson puts it, has learned how to maximize the value of her versatility.
Sweat can do so many things offensively that early on in her career, you could tell that sometimes she was indecisive because she was calculating all the possibilities. Last year, though, she really started to conquer that, and her confidence now is evident. Furthermore, she’s become a much better defensive player as a senior.
But … let’s face it. Sweat just doesn’t have much experienced help. There is a good reason K-State was 8-6 entering Big 12 play. The Wildcats are relying a lot on freshmen and sophomores to fill the holes around Sweat. And one rookie who could have been a star in Manhattan isn’t there; K-State didn’t win the Taber Spani sweepstakes because Tennessee did.
A point-guard-leader-in-waiting wasn’t developed behind Shalee Lehning. And in a conference with some amazing athletes, the Wildcats have a hard time matching up position by position with any other league team. And yet ….
They beat the LIVING CRAP out of Kansas! We reporters in Bramlage Coliseum sat there and watched it thinking, “Is this really happening? Can there possibly be an explanation for this? Will we find out after the game somebody on the Kansas side had a death in the family? Do the Jayhawks all have the flu?”
Since then, I’ve had conversations/traded e-mails with several Big 12 followers, and we’re all obsessed with this game. My pal Matt Coatney, radio announcer for Nebraska, was on his way to the Huskers’ game in Ames, Iowa, when he heard the KSU-KU score and said he almost drove off the road. Sunday, he watched a tape of it to try to understand what happened.
Afterward, KU coach Bonnie Henrickson said she was speechless and that she didn’t know how her seniors, in particular, has played so poorly. But I have to say it’s hard, as an observer, to just lay this loss on the players. Yes, they missed a ton of shots and by midway through the second half, only Danielle McCray still seemed to actually be trying to salvage the game.
But I have yet to talk to anyone who watched this game who wasn’t perplexed by Kansas’ game plan, offensively and defensively. With the clear advantage the Jayhawks have in athleticism and depth, why did they not trap and press the Wildcats? When you go against a team that has ONE proven, dependable scorer (Sweat), how do you let that ONE player score 24 points against you? When you have an all-American candidate and the best overall player on the floor (McCray), why don’t you run play after play after play for her?
And if you feel your players are sleepwalking _ in one of their biggest rivalry games, no less _ why not do something dramatic to shake them up? It seemed to me that as KU’s staff watched the Jayhawks miss shots at mind-boggling rates _ their first 11 of the first half and first 14 of the second _ they weren’t doing much to pull the players out of the quicksand they were in. Maybe because the apparent game plan was part of what put them there.
I think there are times that coaching staffs have a hard time, as a game unfolds, accepting that their idea of what should work just isn’t happening. And they insist to their teams, “You just need to do what we told you to do better!” rather than say, “Let’s re-think this now and change some things.”
One of the phrases the KU staff has used a lot in previous years in teaching players is that it’s important to “get it” right, not to “be” right. And I had to wonder if maybe the coaches needed to take their own advice in that regard on Saturday. Maybe their scout was right and everything they were telling the players during the course of the game was right … but, you know what? The bottom line was still that nobody for KU was getting it right.
Now, having said all that, let’s move on to some other “weird” things. Feel free to add your own.
*-TEXAS TECH’S “OH-FER” HALF: This actually came on an overall weird day: March 22, 1999. Quickly: Name the two programs that have beaten UConn in the NCAA tournament before a regional final in the last 15 years (going back to 1994). Stanford (in 2005) and … remember this one? … Iowa State (in 1999).
I was in Cincinnati that morning to see the Cyclones upset the Huskies, who had lost then-freshman Sue Bird to an ACL the previous December and missed her all season. Then I drove to Normal, Ill., for two other Sweet 16 games. Eventual national champ Purdue beat North Carolina, but that wasn’t weird. It was the nightcap that provided the weirdness.
In the first half of the Texas Tech-Rutgers game, none of the five Tech starters scored from the field. Now, on first glance maybe that doesn’t seem weird but … think about it. How many times have you ever seen an entire first half where not one starter on a team makes a shot? And I’m not talking about some alternate starting lineup for Tech; these were their real starters on a team that was a No. 2 seed, had lost just three previous games and was the Big 12 regular-season and tournament champion.
I can’t ever remember seeing anything like it. Admittedly, if something horrible involving offense is going to happen in the NCAA tournament, you would bet Rutgers would be involved, but still … not a single shot made for 20 minutes by Angie Braziel, Rene Hanebutt, Julie Lake, Melinda Schmucker or Keitha Dickerson. Weird.
*-NEBRASKA’S COLORADO CURSE: For two decades, the Huskers simply could not win in Boulder, Colo. Starting in 1985 through 2005, Nebraska lost 21 consecutive games at Colorado. This streak spanned four different Nebraska coaches and was during the careers of the Huskers’ top six all-time scorers.
Yes, Colorado was a more successful program during that stretch, as the Buffs went to the NCAA tournament 12 times under Ceal Barry then. But Nebraska wasn’t downtrodden – the Huskers made the Big Dance six times in the same period. Alas, Barry announced she would step down after the 2005 season, during which the Buffs went 2-14 in the Big 12 … but still beat the Huskers at Coors Events Center. That came in Barry’s last home game as coach.
The streak finally ended in 2006. Weird.
*-ROCKY TOP ABSENCE: OK, in case you’ve lost count, Tennessee has been to the NCAA Final Four 18 times in the 28 years of the tournament. Yet the ONE year that the event was at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Pat Summitt’s crew didn’t make it. They were upset by Virginia in the regional final. Weird.
*-ROCKY TOP DOMINANCE: Tennessee has won eight NCAA titles, but no other SEC team has ever won one. The league boasts 16 Final Four appearances outside of the Vols, but no national championships from those trips. Weird.
Oh, and here is something that might be flawed, but probably isn’t weird: my vote this week.
1.Connecticut, 2. Stanford, 3. Tennessee, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Georgia, 6. Texas A&M, 7. Duke, 8. North Carolina, 9. Baylor, 10. Nebraska, 11. Ohio State, 12. LSU, 13. Xavier, 14. Oklahoma, 15. Oklahoma State, 16. Florida State, 17. Texas, 18. West Virginia, 19. Virginia, 20. Wisconsin-Green Bay, 21. Georgia Tech, 22. Michigan State, 23. Georgetown, 24. Miami, 25. James Madison