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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wildcats seem better on road

By Kellis Robinett
The Wichita Eagle

The good news for Kansas State heading into tonight’s game against Texas A&M is that it will be played at Reed Arena.

Unlike most teams, the Wildcats don’t mind playing on the road. Heck, right now they prefer playing on the road.

It’s where they have been at their best.

They have split their eight Big 12 road games, and if they continue their recent play in hostile environments, finishing above .500 shouldn’t be a problem. They defeated No. 9 Baylor and No. 7 Missouri in their past two road games to significantly boost their chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament, and have won four of their past six away from home. They held a halftime lead in all six.

Compare those numbers to a 4-4 conference record at Bramlage Coliseum — which included a 65-61 loss to Iowa State on Saturday that left K-State coach Frank Martin lecturing his players about not giving enough effort — and it’s easy to see why the Wildcats aren’t upset about another making another road trip.

“We’ve been pretty good on the road,” Martin said. “Our focus, our enthusiasm, our sense of urgency has been a lot more consistent on the road than it has been at home.”

And not just in conference play. When the season began, K-State often had trouble putting away little-known opponents at Bramlage Coliseum. But it thumped Virginia Tech in the Hokies’ building, beat up on Alabama in Kansas City and blew by Long Beach State to win the Diamond Head Classic.

“You just go on down the line and when we’ve been on the road, we’ve been better,” Martin said.

Why is that?

Martin and K-State players have plenty of ideas. Some say the Wildcats aren’t mature enough to handle success, but look forward to trying to prove doubters wrong. K-State always seems to be at its best when people pick against it. But it sometimes needs added motivation to play an unranked team at home.

“We’re a lot more enthusiastic coming in as the underdog,” forward Jordan Henriquez said. “At home we tend to be a lot more comfortable.”

Martin can’t explain why that has been the case.

“Our focus on the road has been a lot better,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s us being around home and being around distractions. That might be the case. But we have not played, for the most part, as consistent with the sense of urgency we have at home as we do on the road.”

K-State won’t have to try to come up with a definitive answer until it returns home on Saturday for its final regular-season game.

Until then, the Wildcats have plenty to play for. They are tied for fifth with Texas at 8-8 in the Big 12 standings and are hoping to stay in front of the Longhorns for the No. 5 seed in the Big 12 Tournament. They are also fighting to be a higher-seeded team in their first NCAA Tournament game. Most online bracket projections have K-State safely in the field of 68, but it will need a strong finish to land a No. 8 seed or better.

Good thing it begins the stretch run on the road.

Check Kellis Robinett’s K-Stated blog at blogs.kansas.com/kstated. Reach him at krobinett@wichitaeagle.com.

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