January 30, 2008

Wildcats break free of KU's grip

A promise is a promise, and Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley wasn't about to break the one he made to his fans. Beasley never waived on his preseason guarantee of a win over in-state rival Kansas, and rightfully so. As the freshman so controversially predicted months ago, his 22nd-ranked Wildcats pulled out a 84-75 win over the Jayhawks on Wednesday, snapping KU's 24-game winning streak in Manhattan and sparking a city-wide celebration in the process.

"I knew my team was capable of beating anybody," Beasley said of his preseason guarantee following his team's win over Kansas. "We showed that tonight."

Fittingly, Beasley led the Wildcats' offensive charge in the school's most important win in a decade, burning the Jayhawks for 17 second-half points. Kansas, the country's 2nd-ranked team, proved to be no match for the dominant K-State freshman, as he continued to cruise his way toward stardom, grabbing six rebounds to go along with his game-high 25 points.

The star appeal of Wednesday's game nearly took an early hit, as a key forward from each squad found himself in early foul trouble. Both K-State's Bill Walker and Kansas' Darrell Arthur were whistled three times in the first half, forcing both to the bench prematurely. When Arthur picked up his fourth just seven minutes into the contest's second period, Beasley and company smelled blood in the water. What followed was a 13-3 K-State run that, for the first time in the game, created some degree of separation between the teams, putting the Wildcats up 12 with 10 minutes to play.

"You want to be able to play with your full compliment of guys," Kansas head coach Bill Self said of his team's game-changing foul trouble. "We didn't become a better team when those guys were on the bench."

While Arthur continued to blaze a whistle-lined trail, eventually picking up his fourth, Walker stayed composed and avoided further foul trouble, allowing himself to finish the contest with 22 points despite playing just 25 minutes.

"Bill has been unbelievably good for our basketball team," said K-State head coach Frank Martin. "He plays with such passion and emotion. I like guys that play with that passion and emotion. We usually get along pretty good. When Bill came to school here, from the day he stepped foot in our first practice, he said, 'I didn't come here to finish in second."'

After seeing his team's lead shrink down to as few as six in half No. 2, a Beasley 3-pointer with four minutes to play stretched the K-State lead back to ten, electrifying the Bramlage Coliseum crowd, and helping snap one of college sports' most inexplicable losing streaks.

The stake wasn't officially drilled through the Jayhawks' heart until nearly 60 seconds later, when a 3-point play from K-State guard Jacob Pullen, who racked up a career-high 20 points in the victory, extended the Wildcats' lead to 12 at the game's three-minute mark.

"Yeah it was the dagger, but we were already in the lead," he said of his crucial bucket. "We just had to keep doing what we were doing."

Each team was plagued by turnovers in the game's opening 20 minutes. K-State coughed the ball up nine times in the contest's first period, while the Jayhawks, who came into Wednesday's showdown averaging just more than 12 turnovers per game, committed 10 in the first half alone. K-State and Kansas combined to turn the ball over 29 times in the game, but the difference in the fast-paced contest may have boiled down to sheer desire.

"The 50-50 balls, they got 70 or 80 percent of them," Self said in his postgame press conference. "It seemed like to me, that they scored off an awful lot off of loose balls.

"The biggest thing to me was the number of balls on the floor that they came up with, and we didn't come up with."

K-State's first three buckets of the game came from beyond the 3-point arc, and the early sharp shooting helped propel the Wildcats to an 11-5 lead less than five minutes into the game. A 6-0 Jayhawk run brought Kansas even, however, ultimately allowing the Jayhawks to pull ahead by four with 12 minutes to play in half No. 1.

Despite holding Beasley scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the game's opening half, Kansas found itself trailing by four just two minutes later. The 6-foot-10 freshman's silence was broken when Beasley's first bucket, a mid-range jumper, put K-State up 28-22 with just more than nine minutes left to play in the first half, and the by the time the halftime buzzer sounded, Beasley had eight points and the Wildcats led 38-26.

K-State knocked down a season best 12 3-pointers in the win, shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc. Beasley was a perfect 4 for 4 from long range Wednesday, while Walker and Pullen combined to chip in five treys of their own.

Four Kansas players finished Wednesday's game with double figure scoring totals. Mario Chalmers' 19 points led the team, while Arthur, forward Brandon Rush, and guard Sherron Collins also broke the 10-point barrier for the Jayhawks, who went to 20-1 on the year.

No. 22 K-State, now 5-0 in the Big 12, 15-4 overall and in sole possession of first place in the conference, won't have much time to celebrate Wednesday's accomplishments. The Wildcats will be forced to return to action on Saturday, when they cross the state's eastern border for a showdown with 12-9 Missouri.

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