Going from one extreme to another in a short time can create interesting challenges for any basketball team.
Kansas State has no choice but to face them head-on as it prepares for Tuesday’s game against Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum.
Two weeks ago, the Wildcats were floundering with a three-game losing streak. Today, they are in first place and have won four in row.
“I hope, for the guys, it is positive feedback and a motivator,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “Maybe we are figuring some things out.”
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Still, everything from pregame motivation to the way opponents view them has changed.
“It is a long season with a lot of games to go,” Weber said. “We haven’t arrived yet. We just won one and that was a couple big wins this last week. We got ourselves in a bind, so we have to take them one at a time and keep finding a way to win.”
The Wildcats hope that approach will help them continue chasing results with the same hunger they showed during victories against TCU, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Baylor. It also shows enough composure to calmly work toward preseason goals such as the NCAA Tournament and a conference title, now that they appear back within reach.
Senior forward Nino Williams has his own way of dealing with the changing landscape.
“I just think like every game is my last game,” Williams said. “Basically, (Saturday) was my last game against Baylor at home. (Tuesday) is my last game against Iowa State on the road. So, every game, just take it as my last game. I just want to get the guys on board with me like it is their last game. Just be 1-0, don’t worry about the next game. Just focus on the next game ahead.”
The next game ahead is a doozy.
It’s a battle for first place against Iowa State, which is coming off a victory over Kansas. The Cyclones have owned the Wildcats inside Hilton Coliseum lately, winning three straight home games in the series.
Williams does not have good memories of Ames.
“I never actually play well there,” Williams said. “I have been thinking about it all year. I think last week on the road, we were good. On the road in the Big 12 you have just got to play. They take away your sets and they take away a lot of things. You just have to play through it.”
K-State could benefit from playing Iowa State at a good time, three days after ESPN’s “College Gameday” was in Ames to showcase the Cyclones and their emotional win against the Jayhawks. Duplicating the environment and energy that filled Hilton Coliseum on Saturday won’t be easy.
Then again, it will be a challenge for K-State to keep up with Iowa State’s high-octane lineup. The Wildcats average 65.6 points, near the bottom of the Big 12, while the Cyclones’ 80.3 is tops.
“We have got to get back on defense,” Weber said. “... You have got to stop them in transition and control the tempo of the game. ... We have got to do what we do well.”
It should be a fascinating matchup, especially now that K-State feels confident instead of desperate.
“This little stretch is a big up,” Williams said. “It’s basketball. You have your ups and downs. We are clicking at the right time.”
Kansas State at No. 9 Iowa State
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Hilton Coliseum, Ames, Iowa
Records: KSU 11-7, 4-1 Big 12; ISU 13-3, 3-1
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
Kansas State at No. 9 Iowa State
Kansas State (11-7, 4-1): The Wildcats have the longest active winning streak in the Big 12 at four. They have defeated TCU, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Baylor to bounce back from a 7-7 start. They have been at their best when Foster reaches double figures and at least one other player gets hot. Against Baylor, Williams came through with a near double-double. Against Oklahoma, Stephen Hurt was a difference maker off the bench. They made need two other scorers to complement Foster against Iowa State’s high-scoring attack, though.
Iowa State (13-3, 3-1): The Cyclones are the Big 12’s highest scoring team. All five of its starters averaged double figures, with Georges Niang leading the way. Niang is one of the most versatile players in the nation. The forward spent the offseason shedding weight, and he has become fast enough to drive past defenders for points as well as shoot threes. Morris is one of the Big 12’s top point guards, averaging 5.9 assists. Iowa State plays its best at home, having won 55 of its last 59 games inside Hilton Coliseum.
RPIs as of Monday: K-State 95, ISU 15.