Kansas State is enjoying the best four-season stretch in team history, and that’s turned into its best ranking in nearly five decades.
After overcoming a scare against a Big 12 rival, the Wildcats look to avoid a letdown against Nebraska on Wednesday night and sweep the season series from the last-place team for the first time in six years.
Seventh-ranked Kansas State (20-4, 7-3 Big 12) has reached the 20-win plateau for a team-record four consecutive seasons, and has been rewarded with its highest ranking since it was sixth in the final poll of the 1961-62 season.
The Wildcats didn’t appear to be capable of reaching that status Saturday, stumbling to a two-point halftime lead before coach Frank Martin changed the scheme to spur a 68-51 win over Colorado.
“We understood what we were doing wrong in the locker room,” said forward Chris Kelly, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds. “Frank came in and simply said we could either make our season or break our season by losing a game like this. A lot of us upperclassmen understood what he was saying and took it to another level in the second half.”
Despite their early struggles against the Buffaloes, the Wildcats are on a three-game winning streak that started with a 76-57 win at Nebraska on Feb. 2. They haven’t swept the two-game series from the Cornhuskers since 2004, but have taken 11 of the last 13 meetings at home, including a 77-72 victory last year.
Kansas State could use a better performance from Denis Clemente, who was held to 10 points while making just 2 of 9 from beyond the arc. That performance came after the senior guard averaged 26.5 points while sinking 11 of 17 3-pointers over the previous two games, including a 23-point outing against Nebraska.
Clemente is averaging 15.4 points to rank second on the team to junior guard Jacob Pullen’s 18.7, which also ranks among the league leaders.
Pullen, though, has scored 15 points in each of the last two games after getting 13 on 4-for-11 shooting against the Cornhuskers.
Nebraska is last in the Big 12 and its 65.2 points per game is the worst in the conference by over seven points.
The Cornhuskers haven’t shown many signs of improvement, losing nine of 10 and four in a row. They’re also concluding a grueling stretch of five consecutive meetings with ranked teams that began with the loss to Kansas State. Since then, Nebraska has lost to top-ranked Kansas and then-No. 24 Baylor before falling 91-51 at then-14th-ranked Texas on Saturday for its most lopsided loss of the season.
“Wow, what do you say?” coach Doc Sadler said. “From the get-go, it was men playing with boys. We couldn’t match their intensity. We couldn’t match anything they had.”
That might be the case again in Manhattan, as the Cornhuskers are 1-7 on the road after dropping six straight. They’ve also lost seven consecutive away matchups with Top 25 opposition since beating No. 22 Texas A&M on Feb. 23, 2008.
Ryan Anderson, the team leader with an average of 10.2 points, has managed 7.8 points per game on 36.0 percent shooting during the current overall losing streak. The senior guard had 10 points against Kansas State two weeks ago.