Loyola vs. Kansas State: Cinderellas crash the ball
ATLANTA — Cinderella against Cinderella.
There’s no other way to describe Saturday’s Elite 8 showdown between No. 11 Loyola and No. 9 Kansas State at 3 p.m. at Philips Arena.
Both teams have pulled off major upsets to get to this point, and it’s the first time in NCAA history those seeds have met in a game.
Loyola has beaten Miami, Tennessee and Nevada by four total points. Loyola has used game-winning shots by three players — Donte Ingram (versus Miami), Clayton Custer (versus Tennessee) and Marques Townes (versus Nevada). Clutch, last-second shots, have been the norm for the Ramblers.
Kansas State has had a little easier road, beating No. 8 Creighton (69-59), edging upstart University of Maryland Baltimore County (50-43), and nipping No. 5 Kentucky, 61-58.
“We have a ton of respect for Kansas State,” Loyola coach Porter Moser said on Friday afternoon. “They have guarded as well as anybody in the tournament. I think they are giving up 33 percent in three games. I have a lot of respect for how hard they play, especially how they are guarding.”
“The thing I emphasized to these guys, they really got to kind of block out everything that’s going on around them and really focus on preparing for Loyola,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “We can’t worry about what happened yesterday. We’ve got to take care of business right now. We’ve got to get our mind set right, our heart right, and play at a high level tomorrow because they are very good, tough, 31 wins.”
Loyola, winner of the Missouri Valley Conference, has won 13 straight.
“I don’t care what league you’re in, that’s big-time,” Weber said. “They seem to make a lot of big plays. We have a tough challenge ahead of us.”
A key for K-State will be containing crafty Loyola point guard Clayton Custer, who averages 13 a game. Moser said the Ramblers are 29-2 when Custer plays. He missed several games with an ankle sprain. Simply put, he makes the Ramblers go.
“All of these kids are coaches’ dreams,” Moser said. “It’s by design. Clayton is one of those guys that – it’s like how they talk about a great quarterback in the huddle. You hear offensive linemen and other players say you just know we’re going to march downfield because of the confidence he instills.
“That is kind of the way they feel about Clayton. Clayton has that ball, and he’s leading us. You have that comfort level. He just has a high IQ.”
Dean Wade is the guy that usually makes K-State go. The 6-10 junior forward averages 16.2 a game, but he’s been bothered by a foot injury. He missed K-State’s first two games of the tournament and played sparingly in the upset win over Kentucky. How much he plays will be a game-time decision.
Weber has also been especially pleased with Barry Brown, who’s getting it done at both ends of the floor averaging 16 a game. He’s K-State’s answer to Cody Martin, a player who can guard several different positions.
“When he was a freshman, I said, who’s going to be our defensive stopper, and he’s very stubborn,” Weber said. “He got cooked a little bit as a freshman, got better last year. He was one of the tops in the nation in steals a year ago. And then this year, he kind of has taken it on, just to be the stopper. He hasn’t probably gotten as many steals because he’s been locked in on so many guys.”
Weber said Brown embracing a defensive role, a defensive toughness, has spread to other players on the team.