Halfway through the conference slate, Kansas State finds itself 2 1/2 games out of first place in the Big 12. It appears to have a good chance of closing that gap over the next 2 1/2 weeks.
Coming off an impressive victory, the 10th-ranked Wildcats continue a seemingly easy portion of their schedule Saturday when they visit an Iowa State team that has lost seven straight in this series.
After a heart-wrenching 81-79 overtime home loss to then-No. 2 Kansas on Saturday, Kansas State (18-4, 5-3) took out its frustration on Nebraska on Tuesday. The Wildcats defeated the Cornhuskers 76-57 in their most lopsided Big 12 road win since the conference’s inception in 1996-97.
“The best elixir for a loss is another game,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “Our guys approached it the right way. To their credit, they responded like champs.
“We’re happy with what we got done here (Tuesday),” he added. “The same way we didn’t attach ourselves to a hard loss Saturday, we’re not going to attach ourselves to a good road win.”
Denis Clemente led the way for the Wildcats with 23 points, and finally looked comfortable with his 3-point shot. The senior guard made 5 of 9 from beyond the arc after shooting 29.6 percent (40 for 135) in his first 21 games.
“I’ve been working hard this whole year,” said Clemente, Kansas State’s second-leading scorer with 15.0 points per game. “I don’t know why they haven’t been falling. I kept believing in myself and doing what I’ve been doing. (Tuesday) was the day. I have to keep going this way.”
Clemente struggled to find his shooting touch in the Wildcats’ two victories over Iowa State last season, but virtually nobody shot well in those contests.
Clemente averaged 12.0 points on 29.2 percent shooting, while Kansas State leading scorer Jacob Pullen, who averages 19.0 points, scored 21 on 9 of 23 shooting (39.1 percent) in the two games.
The Wildcats, who have won seven straight over the Cyclones (13-9, 2-5) since a 72-70 loss on Jan. 7, 2006, shot 36.3 percent in last season’s two meetings to Iowa State’s 31.5 percent.
Kansas State finished tied for fourth in the Big 12 last season and currently sits in third place, 2 1/2 games back of the top-ranked Jayhawks.
The Wildcats, who haven’t won a conference championship since taking the Big Eight in 1977, are hoping to make up some ground in the standings with a winnable string of games.
After playing in Ames, Kansas State hosts Colorado next Saturday and Nebraska on Feb. 17 before returning home for games against Oklahoma on Feb. 20 and Texas Tech three days later. These opponents own the five worst records in the Big 12.
Iowa State, tied for ninth place, has lost four of five with a 64-63 home win over the Buffaloes last Saturday representing the lone victory.
This will be the Cyclones’ second straight game against a Top 25 team after losing to No. 20 Baylor 84-63 on Wednesday. Iowa State has lost all four games against ranked opponents this season by an average of 18.0 points and is 0-18 against Top 25 teams since a 72-60 win over No. 12 Iowa on Dec. 9, 2005.
Craig Brackins leads Iowa State’s offense with an average of 16.5 points, and scored 19 Wednesday. Like Clemente and Pullen, Brackins also struggled with his shot in the two meetings with Kansas State last season, averaging 19.0 points on 32.6 percent shooting.