Kansas State took its biggest step yet toward a NCAA Tournament bid by defeating Baylor 77-67 on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum.
It was one of the Wildcats’ most impressive efforts of the season, considering the stakes.
This was a game K-State needed to win. Sure, it could have overcome a loss with a victory or two at the Big 12 Tournament. But things are much simpler now.
K-State (21-10, 10-8 Big 12) ends the regular season fourth in the conference standings. Recent history suggests that will be enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Every Big 12 team with a winning conference record has made it since 2009, and every Big 12 team with 10 or more conference victories has gone since 2007.
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The Wildcats matched both criteria against Baylor (18-13, 8-10) and strengthened their lead over a fellow bubble contender.
They will head to Sprint Center as the No. 4 seed of the Big 12 Tournament. They will play TCU in the quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.
K-State will take its chances if it continues to play as sharp as it did on Saturday.
This was a good game for the Wildcats from the start. That much was obvious watching Dean Wade fire at will. The junior forward bolstered his case for a spot on the All-Big 12 first team by scoring 25 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He was at his best in the first half, piling up 17 points on 11 shots against Baylor’s zone defense.
The Bears clamped down on him in the second half, but his teammates stepped up.
Barry Brown had a nice all-around game with 17 points, nine assists and four rebounds. Makol Mawien played one of his finest games of the season, finishing with 14 points before fouling out after just 17 minutes. And Kamau Stokes came off the bench to score seven points. Both he and fellow point guard Cartier Diarra (eight points) bounced back from ugly outings against TCU.
The Wildcats led 35-25 at half and pulled ahead by as many as 16 in the second half.
Baylor fought back and kept things close behind a game-high 30 points from Nuni Omot, but it wasn’t enough.
The Bears fought an uphill battle the whole way. The Wildcats showed this game was important to them before it even started by wearing their throwback lavender uniforms. They are undefeated (3-0) when wearing them this season, having beaten TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
Things went so well for K-State that coach Bruce Weber was able to honor seniors Mason Schoen and Kade Kinnamon by playing both walk-ons in the final minute.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett