March 22, 2008

Wisconsin ends K-State's NCAA trip

OMAHA, Neb. -- The ride ended amid a standing ovation from fans as an exhausted Michael Beasley trudged down the bench and exchanged hugs with his coaches and teammates. It ended with a pair of seniors struggling to put their careers into words. And it ended with sleepless Kansas State first-year head coach Frank Martin, the conductor, recounting how sixth-ranked and No. 3 seed Wisconsin put the brakes on the Wildcats' season, 72-55, ending perhaps the most memorable ride in two decades for the program.

Beasley, the National Freshman of the Year and Big 12 Player of the Year, scored 23 points and added 13 rebounds for his freshman-record and nation-leading 28th double-double in what could very well have been his final college game.

It certainly will go down as one of the greatest seasons by any freshman in the history of college basketball. Points? He scored 866 of them this season and only two other freshmen in NCAA history have had more. Rebounds? He grabbed 408. Only one freshman has ever had more boards in a season.

His usual Herculean effort wasn't enough. The 19-year-old, just a big kid to his coaches and teammates, emerged from the locker room devastated.

He didn't want to get off the ride.

"It's been a great season," Beasley said. "We basically became a family this year. I've made brothers. We just grew. We had ups and downs. We had good wins and bad losses, but we stuck together and never let nothing break us."

In March, it's about going for broke. And while the 11th-seeded Wildcats never folded, the third-place team in the Big 12, behind their pair of aces in Beasley and Bill Walker (he added 18 points and six rebounds in perhaps his final game at K-State) couldn't keep pace with the hand dealt by the Big 10 regular-season and tournament champions, who delivered seven 3s in the first half and frustrated the Wildcats with scrappy defense down the stretch.

Guard Trevon Hughes (25 points) and forward Greg Stiemsma (14) posted career highs for the veteran-laden Badgers, who won their 12th straight game, improved to 31-4 for their most wins ever in a season, and will face the Davidson-Georgetown winner in the Midwest Region semifinals Friday in Detroit.

"Basketball is a unique sport in the sense that you can do a lot of things you do in practice and talk about sticking to your ideas and at the end of the day the ball has to go through the (basket)," said Martin, whose team's season ended at 21-12 after winning its first NCAA Tournament game in 20 years to reach Saturday's contest. "Wisconsin does such an incredible job. It's a credit to who they are and how they play. (Bo Ryan) has a system in place."

Despite all of their many attempts, the Wildcats couldn't crack the defensive code issued by Ryan, who's team advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in eight years and their first since 2005.

"Hopefully, they want to play more and play longer," Ryan said. "K-State is a very good team and posed some problems.

"Fortunately, we found some solutions."

In a matchup that pitted K-State's wheeling and dealing, up-tempo mayhem against the Badgers' methodic, grind-it-out approach that helped them to allow the fewest points (53.8) in the nation, the Wildcats netted season lows in points (more than 23 points below their season average) and 3-pointers, which in missing all 13 3-point attempts marked the first time the Wildcats didn't hit from behind the arc in 348 consecutive games.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin made 9 of 22 3-pointers, including 7 of 15 during a dizzying first 20 minutes in which the defense clicked and the guards popped. Hughes, who had a career high-tying four 3-pointers, and Michael Flowers (15 points, and 3 for 3 from behind the arc) outscored Blake Young and Clent Stewart 40-4 in the final game for the pair of K-State seniors.

"This is a game I'll never forget," Flowers said. "We didn't do this against a so-so team. This was Kansas State."

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