State of Kansas 63, California 54

Better than the last trip to California.

Incidentally, also North Cali.

Kansas State shrugged off Cal 63-54 Friday night at the Haas Pavilion in Berkely, Calif. It doesn’t erase the memories of losing the 2019 NCAA tournament at San Jose’s SAP Center to Cal-Irvine, but the present looks solid for Wildcat Nation.

It wasn’t always easy, not even a 20-point lead in the second half. Berkeley is located about 50 miles north of San Jose on the San Francisco Bay. It might as well have been the 1,700-mile distance from Manhattan to the Cal-Berkeley campus for the area between K-State and the Golden Bears. That is, until Cal woke up.

From the last 10:00 of the first half and for 15 minutes it was only wildcats. Their half-place pressure made life difficult for Cal, the lineup up and down. With the pressure on, the home bears would have had a hard time throwing it into the bay from the Golden Gate Bridge within sight of campus as they shot 37% for the 8 p.m. opening.

Then the shots for the cats stopped and turnovers went up.

K-State played mechanics on purpose, if not always solid. Keyontae Johnson had nine points in the first half to get the Wildcats off the blocks. The lead reached 20 early in the second half, just after David N’Guessan almost went coast to coast for a layup, :57 on the period.

Johnson was key to consecutive possessions around the 10-minute mark. The Florida transfer drove twice from the right wing to ring the bell and restore a 10-point lead. California kept coming back, led by Texas transfer Devin Askew, even as Johnson led the Cats by 16 points. Markquis Nowell had 13 points with seven assists and made it big late on.

Within the 5 minute mark, the shortest player on the floor took over for a reasonably short distance. Nowell, a 5-foot-7 senior, drilled a 3-pointer in front of the wildcat bench. Nowell was fouled and added the bonus; Cats High, 51-46. Twenty seconds later, Nowell was down with a left lay-in and K-State went up seven.

An Askew turnover – picked by Nowell – led to a runout dunk by Nae’Qwan Tomlin. By the 4-minute mark, K-State had restored a nine-point lead and never let it drop below five the rest of the way. Tykei Greene’s basic move and dunk was helped by Johnson and paved the way for the Wildcats, 61-50 by 70 seconds.

Kansas State, 2-0, is taking the next five days off before hosting Kansas City at the Bramlage Coliseum on Thursday night.