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Sunday, December 18, 2011
Rapid Reax: K-State 71, No. 21 Alabama 58

By Jason King


KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Here are a few quick thoughts from Kansas State's 71-58 victory over Alabama on Saturday at the Sprint Center.

Overview: Center Jordan Henriquez scored 17 points and grabbed 8 rebounds and Jamar Samuels added 14 points to spark unranked Kansas State past No. 21 Alabama. The victory gives Kansas State a 7-1 record heading in next week's Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu. Alabama, which got 20 points from JaMychal Green, fell to 8-3 after losing for the third time in four games.

Turning point: Kansas State trailed 35-34 early in the second half before uncorking a 13-2 run that gave the Wildcats a 47-37 lead and a momentum they would never relinquish. KSU surged ahead by as many as 16 points against an Alabama squad that looked sloppy and ill-prepared for the Wildcats' menacing defense.

Star of the game: Backup point guard Angel Rodriguez scored a career-high 13 points off the bench and dished out 7 assists in a performance that could change the direction of Kansas State's season. Not that things were going poorly for the Wildcats, whose only loss came in double overtime against West Virginia. But if Rodriguez continues to play at a high level, K-State could make some noise not just in Big 12 but in the postseason as well. The fact that Rodriguez, a freshman, had so much success against an Alabama squad known for its defense is just another reason for coach Frank Martin to be encouraged.

Noteworthy: Spotted in the stands Saturday was Shakey Rodriguez, who coached Martin and Alabama counterpart Anthony Grant when they were teammates at Miami (Fla.) Senior High. Grant and Martin later served on Rodriguez's staff. And when Rodriguez left the school to become the head coach at Florida International, he hand-picked Martin to replace him as head coach.

What the win means for Kansas State: Victories such as Saturday's can be the difference between an NIT bid and an NCAA tournament berth. Beating a ranked team on a neutral court -- even though Saturday's crowd was anything but neutral -- will look great on the Wildcats' resume on Selection Sunday in March. KSU might be a work in progress on offense, but the strides it's made in that area are glaring. Martin's teams always play tough defense. Saturday was no different, as the Wildcats forced Alabama into 18 turnovers.

What the loss means for Alabama: The Crimson Tide need to toughen up on the road. They were spanked by unranked Dayton 74-62 on Dec. 7 before completely losing their poise under pressure Saturday. The situation is somewhat surprising considering Alabama -- last season's NIT runner-up -- is a veteran team that has faced tough road environments before.

Up next: Kansas State leaves Sunday for Los Angeles, where the Wildcats will stay for one night before departing for the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, where they'll open with Southern Illinois on Thursday. The winner of that game will play either UTEP or Clemson in the semifinals. Xavier and Long Beach State are also in the eight-team field, along with Auburn and Hawaii. Meanwhile, Alabama faces Oklahoma State on Wednesday in Stillwater.