It’s not often an opposing player dominates a coach’s team and he can’t do anything but revel in awe of it.
“You think about the game [Alexis] Wangmene had, and that’s awesome,” Kansas State head coach Frank Martin said after watching Texas’ big-man control the paint on both ends of the floor, and help beat his Wildcats. “I can’t stand losing, but when you see a senior do what he did during the end of his career to win a game, that’s what it’s all about.”
Wangmene impressed the entire Frank Erwin Center with his career performance Saturday. He notched a career-best 15 points and 13 rebounds, which marked his first ever double-double. Wangmene also hit a career-high nine free throws. His 34 minutes were the most he’s played in Big 12 contests and that’s partly due to the fact he also managed to stay out of foul trouble. He played strong against a physical team without being reckless.
“I really don’t care how physical they are,” Wangmene said. “I think I’m the strongest.”
His point total was a reward for all the dirty work he put into Saturday’s game. Wangmene was moving to the right positions on defense, and he cleared space under the basket after every attempted shot to ensure a Texas rebound. Because he was able to avoid fouling in a game where the referees couldn’t stop blowing the whistle, Wangmene fought for offensive position in the paint during Texas’ second-half comeback, was fouled and sent to line, where he converted key free throws down the stretch.
“He can change the way a game is played with the way he plays inside,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes. “He really went and got those rebounds. And I told him ‘you need to get in there and make your free throws,’ because he’s always been a good free throw shooter.”
Perhaps what is most surprising of Wangmene’s breakthrough performance is the fact that he did it against a formidable, physical opponent. But Barnes said that Wangmene — Lex, as Barnes calls him — shines when the cards are stacked against him.
“I was talking to him yesterday and I said, ‘what I don’t understand about you is, when we’ve really challenged you to get up against guys that can really play, you really take that challenge on,’” Barnes said. “No question, he played the best game he’s ever played.”
His game against the Wildcats came in the form of his second productive effort in a row. He played particularly well defensively against the Aggies last week, highlighted by his game-saving deflection. Wangmene certainly has the skill set to turn Saturday’s into a nightly performance, and it was what most Texas fans thought they’d see from the big-man earlier in his career. So while it remains unclear whether this is a trend or a tease, there is no doubt he is a catalyst for Texas and will be instrumental in helping pad Texas’ tournament resume.
Printed on Monday, February 13, 2012 as: Wangmene shines against Wildcats with career game