One team is coming off an emotional loss to a top-five opponent. The other is trying to recover from a shocking defeat against a middling foe.
No. 11 Kansas State and Iowa State are both trying to stabilize after a difficult week.
When they meet Saturday at Hilton Coliseum, focus may be as important as talent or strategy.
“It’s a maturity game for both teams,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “How do you deal with disappointing losses?”
K-State and Iowa State have battled back so far. The Wildcats responded to losses against Michigan and Gonzaga with winning streaks. The Cyclones have lost back-to-back games once, falling to Cincinnati and UNLV on consecutive days in November.
Still, none of those setbacks can rival what they recently endured.
K-State was on a roll before falling 59-55 to Kansas on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum. It had won eight straight and was in position to take over sole possession of first place in the Big 12 standings. The Wildcats played well defensively, but it wasn’t enough. They missed too many open shots and lost a game fans had circled for weeks. Now, K-State is tied for second with Oklahoma and Baylor.
Handling the situation may determine where it finishes in the conference race. Moving on after hosting the Jayhawks hasn’t been a problem lately. K-State has responded with wins in five of the past six seasons. But it can be an awkward transition.
“People look at the KU game as some big game,” senior wing Rodney McGruder said. “You even get people texting you like, ‘Oh man, are you ready?’ When we play Iowa State, I don’t get those same text messages. People do try to amp that KU game up, but you have to treat it like any other game, because you have games after that like Iowa State. You just have to prepare yourself to be ready.”
As a veteran, McGruder knows how to look ahead. As soon as the last game ended, he began talking about the importance of playing well at Iowa State. The Cyclones have won 17 straight at Hilton Coliseum and beat the Wildcats twice last year. A victory could propel them back into second place, and they will be motivated. That’s what a 56-51 loss to Texas Tech, which had won two of its past 24 conference games, will do.
“They are going to come out ready to fight more than they would,” McGruder said. “If they had won that Texas Tech game, they would have come out a little laid back. They are going to come out and try to protect their home court.”
Weber wondered if K-State’s younger players needed to be reminded of that. But those concerns were put to rest when he saw how they reacted when he gave them Wednesday off.
“It showed it meant something,” Weber said. “We had guys in for treatment, we had guys that worked out, we had guys that watched film, we had guys that shot — even on their days off. That’s a positive thing. You can sit and pout about it and have a sourpuss attitude or you can do something about it.”
Looking back won’t help in that area. Winning the next game is the only cure.
“We took a loss,” said junior guard Shane Southwell. “It was a tough loss, and we should have won. But now Saturday is the most important game of our season.”