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Surprising Kansas State relies on defense to outlast Oklahoma

Feb 3, 2013, 8:34 PM EDT

Shane Southwell, Angel Rodriguez, Rodney McGruder AP

When Kansas State hired Bruce Weber to replace Frank Martin last spring, some panned the move with the idea that the man who failed to get the Fighting Illini back to a level similar to that of his 2004-05 team would struggle to build a consistent winner in Manhattan.

There were questions about what Weber would be able to do once he got “his guys” into the program, which is where trouble began in Champaign, and that will be a discussion to have down the line.

But to this point in the 2012-13 season it’s tough to argue with the work of Weber’s team, which finds itself a game out of first place in the Big 12 as we enter the final full month of the regular season.

Kansas State (17-4, 6-2 Big 12) picked up a hard-fought 52-50 victory at Oklahoma on Saturday, sweeping the season series between the two and avenging two losses to the Sooners last season. And despite an off night offensively for three of their top four scorers (Rodney McGruder, Angel Rodriguez and Shane Southwell combined to shoot 4-of-21 from the field) the Wildcats pulled out the victory due to their work defensively.

Oklahoma committed 14 turnovers and shot 38.8% from the field, with Kansas State’s physical defense proving problematic for much of the game. Add to that the 22 points scored by Will Spradling (12) and Martavious Irving (10), and the end result was a win that keeps Kansas State within striking distance of their in-state rival.

“Kansas State did a great job; I thought they were into it and dictated for most of the night with their defense,” said Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger following Saturday’s game. “We had trouble getting separation and trouble scoring.”

Over their last two games Kansas State has forced an average of 16 turnovers per game and neither Texas nor Oklahoma shot better than 42% from the field, a step in the right direction following losses to No. 2 Kansas and Iowa State. And despite leading the Big 12 in field goal and three-point percentage in conference games, the Wildcats need to defend at the level they did in Norman in order to be at their best.

Whether or not the Wildcats can win the Big 12 remains to be seen, but the fact that the conversation can be had speaks to the team’s development in its first season under Weber.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej

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