Once again, K-State drowns in Jayhawks’ first wave
Lawrence Someone should tell Frank Martin this isn't a requirement.
Rankings haven't mattered. Win-loss records have meant nothing. Winning streaks have been, to put it lightly, irrelevant.
No. 23 K-State brought an 11-1 record and six consecutive victories into Allen Fieldhouse Wednesday night. The No. 14 Jayhawks, on the other hand, entered with an uncharacteristic three non-conference losses — one to Davidson in Kansas City, Mo.
But, all that aside, the broken record continued to skip. The Wildcats blinked and they were down by 18. The mountain proved too steep to climb and KU sprinted to a 67-49 victory — its 43rd win in the rivalry's last 46 installments.
"It's a combination of three things: it's an incredible atmosphere, they've got very good players and they're coached by one of the best," Martin said. "When you've got some young guys like we have that get wrapped up in that emotion, it makes it hard. It's a heck of a lesson for every player that ever plays in this building."
This is hardly a new predicament for Martin-coached teams. Since he took over the Wildcat program in 2007, KU has outscored K-State by a combined 112-43 in the first 10 minutes in its own arena.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The Jayhawk defense had the Wildcats more out of rhythm than they've looked all season. Jamar Samuels opened scoring with a free throw, but K-State's first field goal didn't come until a Will Spradling jumper nearly three minutes in. Their second didn't come until a Jordan Henriquez layup more than five minutes later.
"I almost called a timeout when we were up 1-0," Martin said. "I was so excited we had a one-point lead in the first half."
Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, KU scored at will. Led by Thomas Robinson and Travis Releford, the Jayhawks shot 50 percent in the first half, compared to a 27.6 percent effort by the Wildcats. K-State finally hit some shots late in the period, but didn't do much to dig out of the early hole.
Halftime score: Jayhawks 35, Wildcats 20.
"Last year, we came in and got down early and we had to fight back," Spradling said. "We came out the same way we did last year and it hurt us a lot."
Sure, the Wildcats always seem to make things interesting in the second half — they cut the deficit all the way to three before falling apart down the stretch — but one can't help but wonder; what if, just once, K-State didn't face an uphill battle from the opening tip?
Even the national media knew this year could be different. Martin's Wildcats, who had flown under the radar throughout November and December, were deeper than Bill Self's Jayhawks, who were seemingly a shadow of the last seven Big 12 championship teams.
Simply put, all signs pointed to a dogfight.
KU must have missed that memo. For the first 10 minutes — not to mention the other 30 — it looked every bit as capable as any team Self has coached in his tenure with the Jayhawks.
"We played so good early and we were so turned up," Self said. "We really guarded their stuff well in the first half. That was about as good as we defended a top-25 team in a long time."
Maybe K-State will figure out how to start hot in Lawrence someday. Heck, maybe it will even figure out how to start decent. Maybe the Wildcats will eventually learn it's possible to play even with their in-state rival for a whole game. Maybe, just maybe, it will happen on Martin's watch.
In the meantime, though, the beat goes on.