November 23, 2007

Cats' learning process painful to watch

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Through the first three games of the season, the Kansas State Wildcats were able to deal with their shortcomings because of the massive talent of Michael Beasley, the friendly confines of Bramlage Coliseum and, quite frankly, the shortcomings of their opposition. On Thursday night, the Wildcats played on the road for the first time. Beasley found himself in foul trouble, and the Wildcats were slapped upside the head with reality thanks to the experience of the George Mason Patriots.

If the freshman-loaded Wildcats didn't realize it prior to looking like a Thanksgiving night Turkey on national television, this is big-time college basketball where the players are all good and experience matters.

Showing flashes of skill and prolonged periods of basketball naivety, the Wildcats fell 87-77 in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic to a senior-laden George Mason team that knows big-time basketball thanks to their run to the Final Four in 2006.

"We all tend to think the more talented teams should win, but talent comes in all forms," GMU head coach Jim Larranaga said. "Experience gives you a talent of understanding, and with that you can counter-balance physical talent."

Counter-balance is exactly what the Patriots did with the Wildcats and more. Hitting 3-point shots at a pace they had not shown so far this year and answering every youthful charge the Wildcats could muster, the 4-0 Patriots dropped the Wildcats to 3-1 on the season.

"They've got guys who made it to the Final Four and who understand their system and what it takes to win," rookie K-State coach Frank Martin said. "We've got guys who continued to play the way we've played throughout the course of this year. We played in spurts, and our team has to learn that you cannot play in spurts against good basketball teams."

One of those spurts was at the start of the game when the Wildcats took an 11-6 lead, but then they began to coast, and the Patriots soon found themselves swapping leads with the Cats.

Then a large speed bump popped up on the road to victory. Beasley was called for his second foul with 7:53 remaining in the first half on a picky over the back call off a missed free throw. Martin played it safe and benched Beasley for the remainder of the half, preferring instead to leave his star freshman with three fouls to give in the final 20 minutes.

"We've been so dependent on Mike the first three games of the season that we have to learn that when he goes out of the game, life goes on," Martin said.

It's a lesson the Wildcats have still not learned. The game was tied at 20 at the time of Beasley's departure, but the Patriots closed the half with a 19-10 run, including an 8-0 burst as soon as Beasley stepped off the court.

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!