LAWRENCE — Bill Self didn’t want to disrespect Kansas State’s Cartier Diarra, not after the display the redshirt freshman had just put on against Self’s No. 12 Kansas Jayhawks.
“I don’t want to mispronounce his name because I know it’s not pronounced like it’s spelled, at least in my eyes,” a smiling Self said before asking his media audience for clarification.
For the record, Self isn’t alone in his confusion regarding the point guard’s surname. Most believe it is pronounced [zharra]. Some, however, say [zhatta]. Others even suggest it really doesn’t matter — [zharra, zhatta]; [tuh-MAY-toh, tuh-MAH-toh].
What can’t be debated, though, is Diarra’s improved play.
For the second straight game since replacing injured junior Kamau Stokes in K-State’s starting lineup, Diarra made an indelible impression. After scoring just two points in the first half of the Wildcats’ eventual 73-72 loss to KU on Saturday, Diarra gouged the Jayhawks for 16 second-half points, teaming with Dean Wade to erase an 11-point deficit.
“He was great,” Self said. “He was terrific and he controlled the game the second half for them.”
Diarra was at his best during a 2 1/2-minute stretch that began at the 11:25 mark. When he drilled a 3-pointer to slice KU’s lead to 49-45, it marked the beginning of a run that saw him score 11 straight points for K-State and single-handedly outscore KU 11-6.
Diarra’s personal run featured a pair of nifty layups on aggressive moves, intentional attacks meant to capitalize on Devonte’ Graham’s foul troubles.
“That opened up drives for me because he didn’t want to make fouls and wanted to stay in the game,” Diarra said. “That was that.”
Diarra complemented his success at the rim with efficient perimeter shooting, going 3 for 5 from beyond the arc. He not only started and ended his personal 11-point run with treys, he added his third 3-pointer at the 5:58 mark to give the Wildcats a 62-59 lead.
“He got to the basket,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He played really well, played with a lot of poise. He gets casual, makes some mistakes, but you couldn’t ask for more from a guy who’s started two games.”
That’s especially true when you consider Diarra’s performance level before Stokes’ injury. The West Florence, S.C., product averaged only 3.9 points through K-State’s first 14 games. He scored 13 points and played 23 minutes in the Wildcats’ season-opening win against American, but hadn’t returned to double figures since Game 3 against UC-Irvine.
Not until Stokes was sidelined during the first half of K-State’s Jan. 6 game at Texas Tech, that is. Since then, Diarra has produced three straight double-figure games and played at least 30 minutes in each contest.
Even more impressive, he is averaging 17.5 points and 36 minutes in his two starts. After scoring 17 points last Wednesday in a win against Oklahoma State, he hit 7 of 11 field goals against the Jayhawks while also grabbing four rebounds and making two steals.
“I just need to be more aggressive throughout the whole game, all 40 minutes, and I’ll have games like this a lot,” Diarra said.
The only blemishes on Diarra’s outing against KU were three turnovers and a controversial technical foul called against him with about 6 1/2 minutes to play. The technical followed a Makol Mawien block, but Diarra insisted he didn’t curse while congratulating his teammate.
The play received significant postgame attention because Weber complained about the call — he went so far as to say “a technical shouldn’t make a difference in the game” — but it still didn’t detract much from Diarra’s performance.
At least not in the eyes of Self.
“He was great,” the KU coach repeated. “Their whole team was great. We’ve got to see him three more years.”
Self’s comments make this much clear: In two short games, Cartier Diarra has made a real name for himself — even if that name continues to be the source of much confusion.