Although Kansas State’s chances of winning a share of its first conference title in 33 years were shattered following a discouraging loss to its in-state rival, it still has a lot to play for in its regular-season finale.
The fifth-ranked Wildcats look to bounce back from their first defeat in 4 1/2 weeks and clinch the second seed in next weekend’s Big 12 tournament when they host lowly Iowa State on Saturday.
Kansas State’s highly anticipated game against No. 2 Kansas on Wednesday marked the first time since 1958 the two programs met while both ranked in the top 5. The Wildcats (24-5, 11-4) entered with a chance to earn a share of a conference title for the first time since winning the Big Eight in 1976-77, but they fell apart after halftime and lost 82-65.
Kansas State had just four assists on 20 field goals and shot 7 of 24 in the second half to lose for the first time since an 81-79 overtime defeat to the Jayhawks on Jan. 30.
“We weren’t real good defensively and we absolutely stunk on offense,” coach Frank Martin said.
The Wildcats will now try and put that tough loss behind them and close the regular season with a win in the final game at Bramlage Coliseum for senior star Denis Clemente.
The 6-foot-1 Clemente has scored at least 21 points in three of the last five games, helping put Kansas State in position to finish second in conference play for the first time since 1987-88 in the Big Eight.
“We want to give the seniors a good game,” freshman Wally Judge said. “The last time this team gets to be together in Bramlage, and we are going to come out and try to put this together for our seniors.”
While the Wildcats can earn the second seed in the Big 12 tournament with a win, a loss could drop them to fourth. Either way they’ll have a first-round bye, but no team seeded lower than third has ever won the title in the 13-year history of the tournament.
As poorly as Kansas State played Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse, it appears to have a good chance of bouncing back against the Cyclones (14-16, 3-12).
The Wildcats won at Iowa State 79-75 on Feb. 6 behind Clemente’s season-high 30 points. He made 6 of 8 shots from beyond the 3-point arc to lead Kansas State to its eighth straight win in the series.
The Wildcats have also won eight straight home games over Iowa State since a 62-51 loss to the then-No. 6 Cyclones on Feb. 21, 2001.
Little suggests Iowa State will be able to snap this skid.
The Cyclones, already locked as the 11th seed in the conference tournament, have just two wins in their last 30 Big 12 road games, and they have had virtually no luck against Top 25 teams lately. They’ve been outscored by an average of 13.4 points in losing all seven games against ranked opponents this season, and have dropped 21 straight to Top 25 teams since a 72-60 win over then-No. 12 Iowa on Dec. 9, 2005.
Iowa State has also lost 27 of 28 to top 10 foes since 2001-02, beating only then-No. 2 Kansas 63-61 in overtime on Feb. 19, 2005.
The Cyclones are coming off Tuesday’s 69-67 overtime home loss to Missouri, their 11th defeat in 13 games. The Tigers’ Zaire Taylor drove the length of the floor and banked in a layup at the buzzer for the game winner after Iowa State turned the ball over under its own basket.
“It’s terrible to lose the last regular-season game at home, and to lose it like that,” junior Craig Brackins said.
Brackins averages a team-best 16.5 points and scored a season-high 29 against the Wildcats last month.