Kansas State didn’t let a pair of losses to close the regular season prevent it from getting off to a positive start in the Big 12 tournament.
Trying to reach the tournament championship game for the first time, the second-seeded and ninth-ranked Wildcats try to build off their opening victory as they face third-seed and No. 21 Baylor in Friday’s semifinal contest in Kansas City.
After losing by 17 at rival Kansas and then in overtime at home to Iowa State last week, Kansas State (25-6) regrouped to rout seventh-seed Oklahoma State 83-64 in Thursday’s quarterfinal to snap a three-game tournament losing streak.
“That’s one down. We can’t get overly excited, because right away we have another hard game (Friday) night,” said Kansas State coach Frank Martin, whose team is one win shy of setting the school’s single-season record for victories. “I’m happy because for the first time in my career I get to use a second suit at the Big 12 tournament.”
Though the Wildcats regained some of their confidence, Martin knows his team still has a tough road ahead, starting Friday. Baylor (25-6), which made an improbable run to the tournament finals as the ninth seed last season, has won five in a row after beating sixth-seed Texas 86-67 on Thursday.
Kansas State, however, won the lone meeting between the teams, 76-74 at Waco, Texas, on Jan. 26. Junior guard Jacob Pullen scored 25 points and made two free throws with 8.2 seconds left to secure the win.
Pullen finished with 19 points while sophomore reserve Jamar Samuels led the way with a career-high 27 and 10 boards Thursday. The Wildcats held the Cowboys to 39.6 percent shooting and owned a 43-27 rebounding advantage after allowing Kansas and Iowa State to shoot 49.1 percent in their previous two contests.
“It’s tournament time,” Martin said. “It’s about surviving and advancing, and when you win a game at this time of year, you’re happy because you get to play again.”
Martin will be even happier if his team can clear their next hurdle.
Conference newcomer of the year Ekpe Udoh scored 25 points, Tweety Carter added 20 and leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn overcame early foul trouble to finish with 19 as the Bears shot 53.6 percent to beat Texas for the third time this season.
While Carter matched his point total from his previous four Big 12 tournament games Thursday, Dunn scored 17 points in the second half.
“I wanted to come out and help my team,” said Dunn, the Big 12’s second-leading scorer during the regular. “I just wanted to do what I’ve been doing all year, whatever it takes to get the victory.”
The junior guard is averaging 19.2 points, but was held to nine on 3 of 14 shooting against Kansas State this season after combining for 49 in his previous two contests versus the Wildcats.
Carter finished with 23 points against Wildcats in January.
This is first tournament meeting between the teams since Kansas State’s 74-73 first-round overtime win in 2002.
The winner of this contest will face either top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Kansas or fourth-seeded and No. 23 Texas A&M in Saturday’s championship game.