Jim Wooldridge has many stories to tell about Kansas State’s last victory over Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
He remembers the game plan and the roster, the bad first half and the heart-pounding comeback, the celebration in Lawrence and the party in Manhattan. And there is no forgetting the way he broke his pinky finger at halftime punching a chalkboard at the end of a motivational speech.
But the former K-State basketball coach can also boil down the game — a 59-55 victory in 2006 — to one word.
“It was just so unique,” Wooldridge, now the athletic director at Riverside (Calif.) Community College, said by phone. “That’s the word I keep going back to: Unique. For anyone to go in there and win is unique. I don’t know how many games Bill Self has lost at home, but it can’t be many.
“Bill does such an outstanding job with his team and his program, and then Kansas has one of the best venues in the country. You have to prepare for the venue as much as the team. It’s a lot of fun to play in that kind of atmosphere, but it is very difficult to win.”
K-State victories at Allen Fieldhouse have been particularly rare in recent years. Bruce Weber hasn’t won there. Frank Martin couldn’t win there. Neither could Bob Huggins or Tom Asbury.
The only K-State coach to win at Kansas since 1994 is Wooldridge, and that game remains memorable today.
The strangest thing about it: The Wildcats appeared to have no shot beforehand.
Kansas had won seven straight, while K-State had started 0-2 in the Big 12. The Wildcats lost at Iowa State 72-70 and then at home against Nebraska 57-42. At the time, Wooldridge called the Nebraska defeat embarrassing. He still shakes his head about it now.
“The improbable part of it was we had come off back-to-back losses and really played poorly at home against Nebraska,” Wooldridge said. “They handled us easily, and it was kind of doomsday around our program and our team getting ready to go over to Lawrence. So we took our team the night before out of town and drove over to Topeka, spent the night over there just trying to get a breath of fresh air and change our pattern a little bit.”
At first, it seemed like that curveball did little to help the Wildcats.
Wooldridge came up with a strategy that played off K-State’s strengths of rebounding and defense, but the Wildcats had trouble executing. They turned the ball over left and right, and trailed 26-18 at halftime.
That’s when Wooldridge unloaded on his team in the locker room, eventually pounding his fist into a reinforced chalkboard and breaking his finger.
“We had a good rebounding team and we had a pretty good defensive team on top of it,” Wooldridge said. “I really felt like, if we didn’t turn the ball over and stopped that team from getting out in transition for easy baskets, we could have a very low-scoring game and have a chance to win it at the end.
“As it turned out, we had probably 15 turnovers in the first half. We really self-destructed. I went into the locker room and voiced my displeasure and frustration and got after them pretty good. Fortunately we were only down eight.”
Wooldridge realized he had broken his finger immediately, and his assistants suggested he have it examined, but he kept the injury hidden and focused on the second half.
K-State was a different team from there. The Wildcats played with composure, limited turnovers and confounded KU starters Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Russell Robinson with a zone defense.
The Jayhawks shot 32.1 percent from the field, and the game slowed way down. Then the Wildcats started making shots and pulled ahead.
Clent Stewart led the way with 15 points, Cartier Martin had 14 and seemingly everyone on the roster contributed. Schyler Thomas, a walk-on, scored five points, including a big 3-pointer.
“I don’t recall every shot, but I remember Schyler Thomas made a couple,” Wooldridge said. “That was big. Cartier Martin hit one big, big shot at the top of the key. Dramane Diarra played well. Then there was Clent Stewart. Man, he was a competitor. He is your classic definition of a winner. Maybe his heart had a lot to do with us winning that game.”
K-State fans inside the arena went crazy, and cars driving West on I-70 alongside the team bus honked the entire trip home.
Fans were waiting for the Wildcats when they reached Bramlage Coliseum, and Wooldridge had a party at his house that night.
K-State went on to win its next two games, but then finished 3-9. It was Wooldridge’s final season in Manhattan. Huggins replaced him.
K-State returns to Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to take on No. 12 KU, which means it’s time for someone to call Wooldridge out of the blue and ask about his win there in 2006.
“Happens every year,” he said.
Why not? He knows what it takes to win there.
“You can’t lose your composure when the crowd gets behind their team and they go on a run,” Wooldridge said, “and you can’t succumb to that rush of emotion. You have to stay within a game plan, and you have to execute that game plan and then you probably have to be real fortunate, which we were down the stretch, and make a few plays. That is exactly what happened for us.”