ST. LOUIS (KTVI)- The University of Kentucky Wildcats, an unlikely number 8 seed in the Midwest Region, earned a shot at top-seeded and undefeated Wichita State later this weekend with a win over No.9 Kansas State in a rugged matchup of teams that at times had the look of a contest better suited for the gridiron.
Freshman forward Julius Randle led the charge in the 56-49 Kentucky victory with a double-double of 19 points and 15 rebounds, as the SEC Wildcats used a size and height advantage across the board to adjust shots and make life near the basket uncomfortable. Kansas State led by three in the game’s early minutes, but later had to claw back to a 6 point deficit at the half. A pair of Shane Southwell three-pointers trimmed the UK lead to two in the early stages of the second half, but that’s as close as Kansas State would get. Guard Marcus Foster had 15 points to lead the KSU effort.
“We know that they are long and athletic and they have size,” said Kansas State forward Thomas Gipson. “At times I just think think we weren’t that smart going in there, especially with their length and athleticism. Willie (Cauley-Stein) had four blocks, but I think we just have to be smarter.”
“If we were smarter and used shot fakes and get into the body we would be more successful. And we didn’t shoo the ball that well from the perimeter to open the lane up,” added Southwell.
The renewed physical play from Kentucky recently came after Head Coach John Calipari instituted football drills into team practices. “We played through some bumps, we’re better. We’re better prepared to play a physical team because of what we did. I wish I would have done it to start the season,” Calipari said.
Kansas State’s ability to match up with a Kentucky lineup that plays several big men 6-8 and taller was hurt all the more Friday when K-State Sophomore forward DJ Johnson (Parkway North) exited the game with 3:25 in the first half with an injury. Head Coach Bruce Weber told reporters the team learned at halftime it was a broken foot.
The game got off to an odd start as Kansas State was assessed a two shot technical for a rules violation when Sophomore walk-on guard Brian Rohleder dunked in pre-game warmups. Kentucky Guard Andrew Harrison converted one of the free throws. Weber called the episode “sad”:
“I told the guys I love him. Hey he made a mistake. That dude is a walk-on engineer, studies til 5:00 in the morning, comes to practice, plays harder than anybody else, goes and studies again. And you know, he had tears in his eyes,” Weber said.
“It’s just–that doesn’t make sense to me. But that’s just my opinion.”