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Kansas State wanting more than a brief view from atop Big 12

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Feb. 8, 2013, at 3:02 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, at 9:46 a.m.

Iowa State at No. 13 Kansas State

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan

Records: ISU 16-6, 6-3 Big 12; KSU 18-4, 7-2

Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM

TV: ESPN2, Ch. 33

More information

PKansas State HtYrPtsReb
FShane Southwell6-6Jr.7.93.9
FJordan Henriquez6-11Sr.4.94.4
GRodney McGruder6-4Sr.14.65.4
GWill Spradling6-2Jr.8.53.0
GAngel Rodriguez5-11So.9.4x4.8

x-assists

Kansas State (18-4, 7-2): When K-State lost to Iowa State last month, players blamed the defeat on a lack of energy. Coming off an emotional loss to Kansas a few days earlier, the Wildcats got off to a slow start and couldn’t finish strong. That shouldn’t be a problem this time, with revenge and motivation on their minds. “There is no reason why we should be flat or un enthusiastic to play,” Southwell said. “No reason at all.” It might take more than energy to beat Iowa State, though. The Cyclones’ big men beat K-State inside last month. “We have to play hard,” KSU coach Bruce Weber said. “We have got to be the first team that dives on the floor.” McGruder avoided foul trouble last time out against Texas Tech and scored 18 points. He hopes that put an end to the mini slump he was in. Martavious Irving has scored 10 points in back-to-back games and should once again be a factor on Saturday.

RPIs as of Friday: Iowa State 38, K-State 22.

Iowa State at No. 13 Kansas State

PIowa StateHtYrPtsReb
FMelvin Ejim6-6Jr.10.29.3
FWill Clyburn6-7Sr.15.27.5
FGeorges Niang6-7Fr.11.55.0
GChris Babb6-5Sr.9.33.1
GKorie Lucious5-11Sr.9.51.7

Iowa State (16-6, 6-3): The Cyclones used muscle to beat the Wildcats last month at Hilton Coliseum. Iowa State had 35 rebounds, compared to K-State’s 28, and scored loads of second-chance points. Clyburn led the way with 24 points and 10 rebounds. He has scored 12 or more points in 10 straight games and had double-doubles in three of his last five. Iowa State has won two of three since last playing K-State, with both victories at home. The Cyclones have lost 3 of 4 conference road games. They defeated K-State at Bramlage Coliseum last year and have won three straight in the series.

— Bruce Weber hasn’t coached basketball at Kansas State long enough to learn every detail of the program’s history, but he can tell you, without hesitation, how long it’s been since the Wildcats won their last conference championship.

He’s constantly reminded.

“The banner is out there,” Weber said earlier this week, pointing to K-State’s practice facility and Bramlage Coliseum. “It’s been since 1977.”

That season, in which Jack Hartman guided the Wildcats to a Big Eight title, has been brought up a lot lately. A three-game winning streak by K-State, combined with a week of unexpected scores across the Big 12, has put the Wildcats within reach of another banner-worthy accomplishment.

No. 13 K-State is tied with No. 5 Kansas atop the Big 12 standings at 7-2. The league race is wide open with No. 22 Oklahoma State and Iowa State lurking one game back, but the Wildcats control their own destiny at the midway point of the conference season.

That’s not a scenario they could have predicted two weeks, ago when they lost consecutive games to Kansas and Iowa State. Yet here they are.

“It’s something we have talked about, having high goals and dreams and taking advantage of opportunities,” Weber said. “It has kind of been our theme all year. I have given them little goals along the way. One of them was what happened. Now we have to take advantage.”

It won’t be easy. In order to stay on top of the Big 12, K-State must do what it was unable to the last time it shared a first-place tie with the Jayhawks — beat Iowa State and Kansas. The Wildcats could have moved into first all by themselves with a victory over Kansas last month at home, but they missed too many three-pointers and fell short 59-55. A few days later, they dropped further down the standings when Iowa State out-muscled them for a 73-67 victory at Hilton Coliseum.

They will get another shot at both soon, with Iowa State coming to Bramlage Coliseum at 5 p.m. Saturday and K-State heading to Kansas two days later.

“We deserve the spot we are in,” senior wing Rodney McGruder said. “We just have to go out and prove it.”

Following a sluggish win at Texas Tech, Weber referred to Iowa State and Kansas as “the best two teams in the league.” Both have won three in a row against the Wildcats.

Most years, players would use revenge as motivation. This season, there is more at stake.

“It’s a lot more fun when you are fighting for a title instead of a seed,” junior guard Will Spradling said. “We used to just be fighting for the 4 seed or just to get a bye in the Big 12 Tournament. Now we’re fighting for a Big 12 championship and that first seed in the tournament. It gives you a lot more excitement and energy going into games.”

No one knows how K-State players will respond to the pressures of playing for a Big 12 championship. Some teams can’t handle the spotlight. Others thrive with added incentive.

One thing is for sure: After years of trying to claw their way up the standings, the Wildcats are ready to find out how they handle to life on top.

“I’m not going to lie to you, it’s great,” Shane Southwell said. “As individuals it is something you will remember for the rest of your life. Winning a conference championship, besides schools like Kansas and Duke and North Carolina, you can’t really say that. If we won a conference title that would be huge for us, the school, everybody. But things aren’t over. There are a lot of games left.”

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

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