Kansas State gets a chance to avenge two of its three conference losses during a five-day stretch that starts later this week, but it won’t be taking its next opponent for granted.
Before two shots at redemption the sixth-ranked Wildcats head to Lubbock, where on Tuesday night they’ll seek their first road win over Texas Tech since the inception of the Big 12.
Kansas State (22-4, 9-3) has matched its highest ranking since the end of the 1961-62 season, and though its chances of capturing the conference’s regular-season title may have disappeared with an overtime loss to Kansas last month, there’s still plenty to play for.
Aside from playing for the second seed in the Big 12 tournament and perhaps a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats will get a chance to avenge two of their losses - to Missouri and the Jayhawks - within the next eight days.
First, though, is a dangerous trip to Lubbock, where Texas Tech (16-10, 4-8) has beaten Kansas State six times by an average of 12.1 points since Big 12 play began in 1996-97.
If Denis Clemente continues to play the way he has during the Wildcats’ five-game winning streak, there’s a good chance the streak will end Tuesday. The senior guard is averaging 22.2 points during the streak after scoring 27 on Saturday in an 83-68 win at Oklahoma that had Sooners coach Jeff Capel raving.
“I think Clemente is the fastest guy in college basketball from end to end, especially with the ball in his hands. When he’s making his jump shot, which he’s been doing, he’s awfully, awfully tough to guard,” Capel said.
Clemente also had six assists. When he has three or more, Kansas State is 19-0.
“That’s my job, to control the game, control what we do,” Clemente said.
Clemente and Jacob Pullen (18.5 points per game) give the Wildcats one of the nation’s best backcourts, and they’re at their best when playing at a fast pace. Kansas State is 15-0 when it scores 80 points or more, and 16-0 when it shoots at least 44.0 percent from the field.
This will be Texas Tech’s third consecutive game against a ranked opponent and fifth in Big 12 play, and it’s still searching for a victory. After the Red Raiders lost their first three conference games against Top 25 teams by 18.7 points per game, though, they stayed close Saturday in a 71-67 loss to then-No. 15 Texas.
“Our kids just didn’t quit and battled all the way to the end,” coach Pat Knight said. “I kept telling them ‘if you hang around good things can happen.’ We just need to take this type of effort and get a couple of guys going and just try to finish this next month out.”
Tech’s chances at pulling an upset Tuesday may depend largely on the effectiveness of John Roberson. The junior guard is the Red Raiders’ second-leading scorer with 14.7 points per game, but he was held to two points in 27 minutes against Texas after injuring a rib earlier in the week against Baylor.
Texas Tech also needs a solid game from its top scorer. When junior forward Mike Singletary (15.2 ppg) scores at least 14 points, the Raiders are 12-2.
Kansas State won its most recent meeting with Texas Tech 85-73 in Manhattan on Feb. 11, 2009, with Clemente and Pullen combining for 27 points.