LAWRENCE — As Bruce Weber exited the Allen Fieldhouse media center Saturday afternoon, he made one final plea.
“Ask Fran Fraschilla about (the officiating),” Weber said while continuing to walk. “He can speak for us.”
Yep, just a year after Svi Mykhailiuk’s “walkoff winner” against the Wildcats, Kansas State’s coach once again cried foul following another narrow defeat to rival Kansas — this one a 73-72 verdict that was decided when Barry Brown’s 22-foot heave at the final buzzer clanked off the left rim.
But while Weber was questioning the officials, the bigger question in the minds of many was what went so horribly wrong on K-State’s final play. The Wildcats had 15.2 seconds to respond after KU’s Malik Newman buried a pair of free throws to account for the final score, but they managed only Brown’s rushed, fall-away, 3-point try over Newman and Udoka Azubuike.
Weber said the play — Brown called it “4-pop” — was supposed to be the same one K-State ran late in last year’s game at KU, a pick-and-pop set designed to get Dean Wade an open look from the perimeter. Brown, however, appeared to lose track of time after walking the ball up the court.
From there, everything fell apart.
“I don’t know why, I kind of got confused,” Brown admitted. “I don’t know what was going through my mind, but then I just looked at the time and I tried to make a play.”
Three days after playing hero with a 38-point outing against Oklahoma State, Brown completely shouldered the blame for K-State’s failed final attempt. Asked why he didn’t throw the ball to Wade, he said simply: “I don’t know. I should have.”
Wade, for his part, refused to second-guess his junior shooting guard.
“I ride with Barry,” said Wade, who led K-State with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. “Whatever he does, I trust him. If it didn’t look like I was open, I trust that I wasn’t. Whatever he decides I’m going with.”
A year earlier, Wade missed his “4-pop” attempt, setting the stage for Mykhailiuk’s controversial length-of-court drive and game-winning layup. No one will ever know if Wade would have suffered the same fate this year, but Weber lamented that his team couldn’t execute the play as designed.
“Barry, he’s been unbelievable. He’s been our leader,” the sixth-year Wildcat coach said. “He wants to win. He cares so much. But this time …
“We talk about making the right play, the easy play. Whether Dean makes it or not — he missed it last year — but get the best shot.”
At least one KU player, Newman, was surprised the Wildcats didn’t try to drive on their final possession, especially since the Jayhawks were quite familiar with the “4-pop” play.
“We had already scouted it,” Newman said. “We knew it was coming so me and big fella (Azubuike) was already on the same page. They just took so long to run it, they wasn’t able to run it so me and big fella just contested with high hands.”
KU’s Bill Self suggested he likely would have have attacked the basket in a similar situation — much like Newman did while drawing the foul that resulted in his game-winning free throws. Self also indicated he would have shot long before the clock approached zero, at least under normal circumstances.
“I won’t play that way,” Self said. “I want to go try to score and give us a chance, and if it doesn’t work out you’ve still got a chance because, worst-case scenario, you’re still shooting a 3 to tie the game. So I would go try to score earlier.”
K-State’s failure at the end obscured an admirable upset bid. The Wildcats rallied from an early nine-point hole and an 11-point deficit in the second half behind strong efforts from Wade and guards Cartier Diarra (18 points) and Xavier Sneed (14 points).
While Wade kept K-State within arm’s reach for much of the game with an assortment of mid-range and outside jumpers, Diarra dominated a 21/2-minute stretch in the second half, scoring 11 consecutive Wildcat points to help them turn a 49-38 deficit into a 55-55 tie.
“He was terrific and controlled the game the second half for them,” Self said.
Diarra, however, also was involved in the play that most irritated Weber. With 6:35 to play and K-State clinging to a 59-57 lead following a fade-away baseline jumper from Sneed, Diarra was called for a technical foul after teammate Makol Mawien blocked a Newman attempt out of bounds.
Devonte’ Graham hit both foul shots resulting from the technical to tie the score.
Diarra said he had “no idea” why the technical was called and insisted he didn’t curse. Weber said his redshirt freshman told him he offered this attaboy: “Way to go, Mak, getting that out of here.”
Although Weber made a gesture that suggested a curse word may also have been used by Diarra, he clearly didn’t think Diarra’s words or actions warranted a technical.
“I was really disappointed with some of the calls, but we all were here last year, same thing,” he said. “A technical shouldn’t make a difference in the game.”
Pressed later to clarify his stance on the officiating, Weber declined to elaborate.
“I want to keep my job,” he said. “I don’t want to get fined. I’ve worked too hard.”
He then departed, but not before encouraging the media throng to ask Fraschilla — the ESPN analyst who worked Saturday’s game — for his take on the officials.
Ironically, Fraschilla didn’t need to be asked. He posted a number of Sunflower Showdown thoughts on Twitter, noting, among other things, that he didn’t believe Diarra deserved a technical for showing emotion but also that the game was “generally well officiated.”
Fraschilla certainly won’t get an argument from Self.
“I shouldn’t comment because I haven’t seen the tape,” the KU coach said when told of Weber’s officiating concerns. “But I would bet over the course of a game, and more importantly over the course of a season, that (calls) pretty much balance out. I’m not going to comment about what another coach says, but if that’s a reason for losing or for losing a great game — that was a great college basketball game — I don’t buy into that at all.