Commentary

Walker, Beasley team up to advance to second round

Originally Published: March 20, 2008
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- Michael Beasley's first NCAA tournament provided a few early jitters and two quick fouls.

[+] EnlargeO.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe O.J. Mayo-Michael Beasley showdown didn't quite pan out in the end.
As far as a basketball laboratory, it was a tough learning experience for the Kansas State freshman standout. But not one that couldn't be overcome with a few minutes of reflection.

Beasley proved as adaptable as his teammates in their first brush with the tournament. The Wildcats kept their composure, withstood a Southern California flurry and rebounded to blow out the Trojans down the stretch.

"I was a little excited," Beasley said. "It was something you just have to learn from and play."

After a struggle in the first half, Beasley rebounded to pour in 18 of his game-high 23 points in the second half to lead the Wildcats to an 80-67 victory over the Trojans.

It marked the Wildcats' first NCAA tournament victory since 1988 -- a year before Beasley was born. It was a history-making event that adds another accomplishment in what is expected to be Beasley's rich one-season-and-done basketball legacy at the school.

He has earned consensus All-American honors, garnered strong national player of the year consideration and become the likely first pick in the NBA draft, should he declare. Miami Heat coach Pat Riley made the trip to Omaha on Thursday night along with an army of scouts for more reasons than merely the thick steaks at the restaurants by the stockyards.

The tournament success tops all of that, pushing the Wildcats into the second round Saturday against Wisconsin.

"It's nice to have one win, but it would be even better to have two or three," Beasley said. "We're excited that we've brought the first tournament win here in 20 years. But it doesn't stop here."

His early foul trouble and O.J. Mayo's shooting struggles snuffed out much of the early excitement of what was expected to be the most glittering collection of young players on the first day of the tournament.

I was playing two or three guys out there. I wouldn't say I struggled. I got in foul trouble. But I just went about my business, waiting for my time.

--Kansas State forward Michael Beasley

Beasley was whistled for two fouls in the first four minutes of the half and missed nine minutes of action before the break. Mayo also was frigid in what turned out to be a 6-for-16 shooting performance. It proved that even a collection of ballyhooed players doesn't always guarantee noteworthy performances.

The biggest came from Bill Walker, who scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half to boost the Wildcats to an early lead that pumped confidence through them.

USC coach Tim Floyd cooked up a variety of gimmick defenses against Beasley, often turning to box-and-one and triangle-and-two alignments that limited the freshman to only two first-half shots.

"I was playing two or three guys out there," Beasley said. "I wouldn't say I struggled. I got in foul trouble. But I just went about my business, waiting for my time."

That defensive strategy left other parts of the Trojans' defense vulnerable. Walker answered with 6-for-8 shooting in the first half despite being sent to the dressing room for several minutes before halftime after his tooth was loosened by an elbow from USC defender Daniel Hackett.

"They've only got five defenders, and when they played the the box-and-one and triangle-and-two, they only had three people against the rest of us," Walker said. "I took advantage -- being aggressive and going to the basket."

Frank Martin was expected to be at a disadvantage against Floyd in his first tournament game as a coach. But he adroitly made offensive-defensive substitutions with Beasley late in the first half that helped his player get going. Beasley scored a pivotal three-point play late in the first half that bolstered his confidence before his second-half scoring binge.

The strategy sprang from Martin's learning from the past. Earlier in the season, the Wildcats fell into a huge hole against George Mason after Martin benched Beasley in a similar position with two fouls. The move backfired when the Patriots made a 16-point first-half swing in KSU's first loss of the season.

[+] EnlargeBill Walker
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBill Walker paced the Wildcats in the first half with his sharp-shooting.

"One thing I am is very stubborn," Martin said. "But after that game, I thought I had to find a way to be able to reinsert him in games. I can't just sit him down. He's too valuable to his team."

The victory also was a tribute to Martin's attitude since his team was eliminated in the Big 12 tournament in its first game last week. The Wildcats limped home after a late skid that saw them lose five of their last eight games, with victories over only Big 12 bottom feeders Colorado and Iowa State in the final three weeks of the season.

Players could detect a new determination as soon as they began NCAA tournament preparations earlier this week. The energized Martin made his team believe it was starting on a new run with a positive spirit that was noticeable from their return.

"We all bought into Frank going real hard in practice these last two practices," Walker said. "It's changed the way we played. It's brought intensity, and it's given us new life."

The Wildcats also got a huge lift from the bench, outscoring the Trojans, 23-5. Freshman guard Jacob Pullen scored 11 points, and freshman forward Ron Anderson provided 10 points and eight rebounds in relief of Beasley.

In the process, KSU played with a ferocity hammered into the program by the Cats' former coach, Bob Huggins.

Before Thursday, USC had outrebounded its opponents in each of the past eight games.

KSU dominated the Trojans inside with a 44-27 rebounding margin that included more offensive rebounds (21) than USC's defensive rebounds (18). At halftime, KSU had 12 offensive rebounds -- one more than USC's total rebounds for the half.

"I worked for a guy named Bob Huggins," Martin said. "You want to talk about drills to come up with 50-50 balls, I've learned plenty of them over the last few years."

And although Martin gave some of the credit to his old boss, this one bore the stamp of his own coaching. And an even bigger one from his two best players.

Tim Griffin covers college football and basketball for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.

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