Stunners push Wildcats, Aggies to fore in Big 12

Monday, February 5th 2007, 6:29 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ College coaches whose teams keep losing, whose programs are stuck in the muck of mediocrity and can't get out, will hate what's happening in the Big 12.

First-place Texas A&M and second-place Kansas State are living proof that firing the coach can be the magic elixir that cures all ills _ provided, of course, that the right man then comes on board.

Considering the recent history of the Big 12, the top of the standings at the halfway point of the conference season seems like an advertisement for canning the coach.

In first place is No. 10 Texas A&M, the same school that three years ago was 0-16 just before Billy Gillispie arrived and began his amazing turnaround.

Drop down one spot from the 7-1 Aggies and there in a challenging position at 6-2 is Kansas State. A week ago the guys from Huggieville were daring to dream of their first NCAA tournament bid since 1996. Now a stunning victory at No. 22 Texas on Saturday has expanded their horizons.

Why not their first conference championship since 1977?

An NCAA bid, unless they fall flat on their faces, seems almost assured after the Wildcats under first-year head coach Bob Huggins shocked the Longhorns and super freshman Kevin Durant 73-72 Saturday in Austin, Texas.

``I guess we needed a so-called signature win,'' said Huggins, whose controversial hiring last spring is looking like a stroke of genius.

``But as I said, it's only a signature win if we continue to win and Texas continues to win.''

A few hours after the Wildcats made it a clean football/basketball sweep of the Longhorns for this academic year, the No. 10 Aggies became the first South Division team to win in Kansas' hallowed Allen Fieldhouse since the Big 12 began play in 1996.

Trailing by 10 points with about 6:30 to go, the Aggies refused to die. They tied it 64-all on a three-point play by Antanas Kavaliauskas, then Acie Law hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 20 seconds left and iced the 69-66 victory with two free throws.

When the buzzer sounded, Law and most of the other Aggies danced atop the Jayhawk symbol at center court.

``This one is sweet,'' said Law, who later apologized for the celebration.

``Texas was a big win, they were a top-10 (team). To get Kansas on their home floor, on College GameDay, on the biggest stage, prime-time action, everybody's watching, to hit that shot in the clutch, that's a great feeling.''

With eight games down and eight to go in the conference race, Kansas and Texas are tied with Kansas State in second place.

Oklahoma State, which got ambushed 89-77 at Colorado on Saturday, is 4-3. Texas Tech and Oklahoma are 4-4, followed by Iowa State (3-5), Nebraska (2-5), Missouri (2-6) and Baylor and Colorado, both 2-7.

Huggins' Wildcats already had been playing steady defense and rebounding with ferocity. But now they've begun to shoot, too. They made 14-of-27 3-point attempts against the Longhorns, including 9-of-16 in the second half while snapping a 10-game losing streak against ranked opponents.

The last time Kansas State had beaten a ranked team was in March 2004 against then-No. 10 Texas.

Longhorns coach Rick Barnes doesn't think there's any doubt as to whether Huggins' first Kansas State team will make it to the NCAA tournament.

``There's a lot of basketball left to play, and they're in position,'' said Barnes, who saw Durant's 32-point effort go to waste.

``They're going to obviously win a bunch more games.''

While Kansas State and Texas A&M have been on the rise, Bob Knight's Red Raiders have taken a plunge. Since beating A&M, the Red Raiders have lost three in a row.

Tech's Jarrius Jackson tied his season high with 31 points and became the fourth player in school history to score more than 2,000 career points Saturday. But that didn't stop Oklahoma from finishing on a 20-2 run for a 74-61 victory in Norman.

It was the first meeting of the two since Oklahoma's Longar Longar broke facial bones of a Tech player in an elbow incident that had the Red Raiders fuming, and which netted Longar a brief suspension.

Knight did not appear at the postgame news conference. A spokesman said he'd been feeling ill. But his son and assistant coach Pat Knight had this to say when asked about Longar:

``I hope they're not using putting a kid in the hospital with reconstructive facial surgery and out for the season as motivation. I'm hoping he's motivated because it's a Big 12 game playing against Texas Tech.''