KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Rodney McGruder scored Kansas State's first nine points of the second half and led the 11th-ranked Wildcats past No. 14 Oklahoma State 68-57 Friday night in the Big 12 semifinals, setting up a title match on Saturday against rival Kansas.
McGruder, a career leader in 10 of 14 categories for the second-seeded Wildcats (27-6) scored 25 points as the Wildcats avenged a loss to Oklahoma State in the regular season finale that forced them to share the league title with the hated Jayhawks. The 6-4 McGruder had 24 points the night before against Texas.
Angel Rodriguez, Kansas State's 5-11 point guard, acquitted himself well against Marcus Smart, his bigger and more celebrated Oklahoma State counterpart. Rodriguez had 17 points, four assists and three steals. He had two 3-point buckets while the Cowboys (24-8) were threatening a second-half comeback.
The 6-4 Smart, the Big 12 player of the year, had 18 points, three assists and three steals.
Kansas State, which hadn't won a regular-season conference title since 1977, held a 28-23 halftime lead and then McGruder launched the second half with a dunk, a coast-to-coast layup, a jumper and a three-point play that put the Wildcats on top 37-25.
Smart's two free throws began a brief flurry for the Cowboys, who closed to 40-33 on a bucket by Michael Cobbins. But Rodriguez hit a 3-pointer from the wing and, after Smart threw up an air ball, Shane Southwell made a free throw and Thomas Gipson had a dunk for the Wildcats.
The lead reached 49-35 when Rodriguez rebounded an Oklahoma State miss and McGruder drilled a 3-pointer.
The Cowboys shot only 30.5 percent and were just 9 for 31 in the second half. Le'Bryan Nash had 11 points for Oklahoma State.
Jordan Henriquez had eight points and 11 rebounds for Kansas State.
The game was played before 19, 116, a tournament record, and the Sprint Center is sure to be rocking against Saturday when the two archrivals from the Sunflower State collide for the title. The No. 7 Jayhawks swept Kansas State during the regular season and in fact have tormented their state rivals, holding a bulging 184-91 record against them. Bill Self is 7-0 against Kansas State in conference tournament games and 20-3 since becoming Kansas coach. Kansas reached the finals by beating Iowa State 88-73 in the earlier semifinal.
The Wildcats were miserable in the early going, missing 17 of their first 20 shots. But Oklahoma State was not much better. The Cowboys were only four for their first 11 and had four quick fouls and four quick turnovers.
But the Cowboys got a 3-pointer from Phil Forte and two more long ones from Smart, who had 12 points in the first half, and seized a 17-12 lead on Philip Jurick's tip-in.
But then Southwell, who missed his first four from the field, connected from behind the arc and launched a 12-2 run. McGruder's bucket was followed by Martavious Irving's 3-pointer, then Rodriguez picked up an errant Oklahoma State pass and drove on for a layup and a 24-19 lead.
Transcript of media session:
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Kansas State Bruce Weber, student‑athletes Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez. Questions for the student‑athletes.
COACH WEBER: Just really proud of the guys. This is a very, very good team, Oklahoma State, that we faced. We didn't play the best defense at their place. We scored 70 points, and that was more than we scored at home, and they still won the game. So it was a defensive mindset.
We did a great job obviously getting Nash a couple of fouls, get some people with some fouls the first half helps, but you think they're going to come back with good energy the second half. We had the good run to start the second half, and just able to keep it up, 10, 12, 14, and just played good solid basketball.
And now you get a chance ‑‑ we're conference co‑champs, and now you get a chance to play the team that tied you in a big game for the tournament.
And I couldn't be more proud of Jordan. Struggled a little bit the last couple of weeks. They tried a little different procedure today, obviously it worked and he had great energy. And each day it seems like it's a different guy. Obviously Angel and Rod are our consistent guys. But when you have guys like D.J. and Jordan and different people along the way that step up, it definitely makes a difference and gives you a chance.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student‑athletes.
Q. Can you just tell me a little bit about what it means to you to be back in this championship game, have another chance at Kansas?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: It feels good. But we have a game tomorrow. So just gotta get prepared for Kansas.
Q. This is for Rodney and for Angel. Coach talked about the run to start the second half. What do you feel like were the keys to that run that allowed you to secure the momentum?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: We got on transition. We made ‑‑ we forced them to take some bad shots. That allowed us to push the ball a little bit on the break, and we got baskets. And then Coach called a timeout.
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: We saw they were tired by the end of the first half. So the beauty of our team is we're deep and a lot of people can play for us and help us, and that's what we did. We rotated our line and we got out in transition. And pretty much every time we went into transition, something positive happened. So that was the biggest key.
Q. Rod, just on that run again, the beginning of the second half, the shots you were making, was it just the time for you to maybe take over the game a little bit?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: I just took the open shots and took the lanes that they gave me, and I was fortunate enough to make those shots.
Q. Rodney, I was wondering if you could talk about when you go deep into a tournament, typically you need to have a great point guard, and you got one sitting next to you. Can you talk about what Angel means to this team as he progressed through the season?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: He means a lot. The way he pressures the opponent's point guard and his craftiness with the ball, him finding open guys and him being able to step up and knock down big shots, you know, you couldn't ask more from him. He's done a tremendous job.
Q. In your game, you move a lot without the basketball. There was about a three‑minute span in that second half where I thought maybe you were standing a little bit. Did you get tired tonight?
RODNEY MCGRUDER: No, I didn't. I just seen the way they were face‑guarding me. So I just wanted to wait and just set up my cuts, use screens better than I was using at first, because first I wasn't waiting on screens and it didn't allow me to get open.
Q. Did Oklahoma State seem a little tired? They had a real tough game late yesterday. Did they seem tired to you?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: At some point, yeah. That's actually when we made the run the first half. Like I said, we got a lot of players that can come in the game and help us play with a lot of energy and make plays with us. We've always gotta take advantage of that. We do a great job pressuring the ball and getting at that. At some point they're going to get tired and break down. If we get tired, somebody's going to come in do the same thing, do the same job.
Q. Angel, I know it gets repetitive, but you're on pace to do some pretty incredible things as a sophomore at Kansas State. Can you just talk about maybe the maturity that you've been able to get over the course of the season and then also talk about your energy level heading down the stretch here in March, and you guys play tomorrow at 5:00?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: I gotta give a lot of credit to the coaches and the players. At first I didn't ‑‑ I wasn't playing that good. I was doing a solid job. But the coaches have tremendous trust in me. They believe in me and my teammates as well. It was just a matter of me having ‑‑ it was just matter of me having a good game that could bring my confidence back.
Once I had that good game, I don't remember when it was, I just ‑‑ I kept playing well. And sometimes it's not going to be the best night. Like I played at Oklahoma State, it wasn't my best game. But I'm always going to fight and I'm always going to do whatever I can do to help the team get a win.
Q. Angel, I'll let you answer this in front of Coach Weber. You guys do a really good job of passing forward without actually dribbling against the press like Oklahoma State was doing that 1‑3‑1 three‑quarter court. Is there a drill you do in practice to move the ball forward without actually dribbling it?
ANGEL RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Yes. Right when practice starts, we do a 5‑on‑0 drill, which is pretty much advance the ball and get some layups. And also when we play 5‑on‑5 at the beginning of practice, me and Martavious and the point guards used to get yelled at a lot for dribbling and somebody being open.
So we've gotta give credit once again to Coach. Everything he does is for a reason. And when we do what he says, positive things happen.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.
Q. How much do you think fatigue played a part in Oklahoma State's ‑‑ how they played in the second half? And did that boost your fastbreak, the fact that they might have been a little bit tired?
COACH WEBER: I don't think there's any doubt ‑‑ we watched ‑‑ at least the coaches watched in person last night the second half and really thought they were getting a little tired even in that Baylor game.
And then it's a hard turnaround. Now we're going to have a hard turnaround at 5:00. Obviously a couple of hours for Kansas probably helps them. And it's going to be a key with our depth. It will be important. But they were tired. I think our guys noticed it. They kept coming in the huddles, and I think when those guys were out the first half, they came back in, they forced a few things. Get some transition. And he kept pulling Smart in and out. That means he must have been having a little bit weary legs.
So I think there's no doubt it was a factor. We weren't much earlier yesterday, to be honest. So you hope it's your conditioning, rotation of guys and the way we play every day, the way we practice.
Q. Obviously Angel's had a great season. You've had some great players through the year yourself. How closely ‑‑ being a sophomore, Second Team All‑Big 12, how closely is he to paralleling some of those great players that you've had with visibility?
COACH WEBER: He's made a lot of strides. And I think it's just ‑‑ one thing, he likes the game, he studies the game, he watches film, watches games. Not all our guys do that. And he comes in and watches film, a lot of times with Coach Frazier. Sometimes he's a little emotional, and during the game. And then I think the thing he's learned, that, like he said, usually we're saying something for a reason, we see something.
And even tonight he got a bad call. Calm down, keep your poise, make the next play. And so he's made a lot of strides. Obviously he's had a great season. I think big strides, assists, turnovers, just being smart. And I hope he could make another big jump ‑‑ a guy like Deron Williams was really good as a sophomore and then took another big jump, because now he knows what it's about, especially being in our system, what we can do.
And he's played all year, really, not healthy. There's days we can't even practice him. So Jordan's done that. Will's done it. And now Angel. Those guys have some toughness.
Q. You mentioned the fact that Jordan had a little different procedure going. Without being too technical, what exactly was done for him?
COACH WEBER: Just trying to get the muscles to relax. We've done massage. We've done muscle relaxers, a lot of different things. And today they took a little bit of a chance on something different. And obviously it helped, because he was much more mobile.
Last couple of games he hasn't been able to move at all. It was gutsy. Eight points, 11 rebounds. Three blocks. That's the difference maker. And the thing we brought up ‑‑ the first time we played him at home he probably had three or four blocks, if I remember right, and when we played there he wasn't involved. So when they did drive, he was a factor. And that makes a difference, because they had free rein on us last week at their place.
Q. Was this your best defensive game of the year? And would you talk about the need to keep them ‑‑ keep Oklahoma State out of transition and from not playing up above the rim like they did last week?
COACH WEBER: You know, that's huge. And really we did a decent job last week except for a couple of periods the first half, had a little run, second half they had the run when we got the nine‑point lead, but you gotta keep Smart in front of you, keep Nash in front of you. It's really hard to do. They're both talented. And Markel Brown and Forte played off of them. We did a better job helping.
After last week, TCU and Oklahoma State, that's all we talked about, that's all we worked on in practice: We gotta jump to the ball. We gotta be in help position, just basic shell, drills we do every day. And then we talked about I thought we did a great job of ‑‑ we call it frenzy. If somebody helps, you go help them. You play in a frenzy. Keep making the next play. I thought we did a great job of that, and with that kept them from getting in the paint, which we didn't do last week.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach.
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