ST. LOUIS (AP) — Kansas State coach Bruce Weber wasn’t unhappy with walk-on Brian Rohleder, whose dunk in warm-ups earned a technical foul that put his team in a hole against Kentucky even before their game began Friday night.
Weber saved his venom for the official who blew the whistle.
“That’s sad. I know it’s a rule, but sometimes commonsense prevails,” Weber said with a hoarse voice after a 56-49 loss that knocked his Wildcats out of the NCAA tournament. “To me, a good ref comes over and says, ‘Hey, don’t dunk.’”
Instead, Kentucky was awarded two free throws for the technical, Andrew Harrison made one of them and the score was 1-0 before Kansas State had even stepped onto the floor.
NCAA rules prohibit a player from dunking within 20 minutes of the start of a game. Rohleder’s dunk came with 19:58 showing on the clock.
“That doesn’t make sense to me,” Weber said, “but that’s just my opinion.”
Once the game began, Kentucky (25-10) took control in the early minutes, withstood everything that Kansas State threw at it in the second half, and then made enough plays down the stretch to win its opening game of the NCAA tournament for the 21st time in the last 22 tries.
“We played very determined,” Weber said. “Just not enough firepower.”
Marcus Foster had 15 points, Shane Southwell scored 11 and Thomas Gipson finished with 10 for Kansas State (20-13), which struggled to hit from the perimeter against Kentucky’s tall lineup.
Kansas State was just 5 of 21 from 3-point range. Foster was 1 of 7.
“We knew that they were long and athletic, and they have size,” Gipson said. “At times, I just think we weren’t smart going in there, especially with their length.”
Julius Randle had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Aaron Harrison finished with 18 points for Kentucky (25-10), which is starting to finally live up to the expectations that came with its heralded recruiting class.
The SEC tournament runner-up, Kentucky built on the 1-0 lead that Kansas State spotted it in the opening minutes, the Harrison twins each knocking down a series of outside shots.
Kentucky eventually pushed the lead to 29-17 with 2:23 to go on Randle’s basket, but Kansas State answered with six straight points to end the half. Weber’s team then trimmed the lead to 35-33 soon out of the break, energizing all the purple-clad fans in the Scottrade Center.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Weber said.
It’s just that whenever Kansas State got close, Kentucky managed to extend its lead.
After Southwell was hit with a technical for arguing a no-call on a drive to the basket, the lead grew back to 44-36 midway through the second half. And whenever the Big 12′s Wildcats got much closer, the SEC’s Wildcats turned to Randle to answer the call.
The bruising forward stuck back a miss to make it 46-38 with 8:02 remaining, converted a three-point play a few minutes later, and then scored again at the rim for a 51-40 advantage.
Kansas State closed to 55-49 on Foster’s off-balance 3-pointer with 24 seconds to go. But a team that replaced most of its key players from a season ago and defied expectations all year, eventually ran out of time on its comeback bid.
“There’s some tears,” Weber said, “tears of joy for the season we had but also tears of sadness that we just didn’t have enough to continue. You don’t want your season to end, ever.”