With a six-game winning streak, Kansas State has virtually assured itself of another bid to the NCAA tournament. Colorado has been moving closer to putting itself in strong contention for its first at-large berth in eight seasons.
The Buffaloes can take another step in that direction with their third victory of the season over the No. 19 Wildcats on Thursday in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals.
Fourth-seeded Kansas State (22-9) saw its hopes of a third NCAA bid in four seasons slipping away after a 58-56 loss at Colorado (20-12) on Feb. 12. The Wildcats, who dropped to 4-6 in the conference and suffered their eighth loss in 15 games, had at that point scrapped an offense that featured ball screens and post plays in favor of a guard-oriented approach - a change that happened after a 74-66 home defeat to the Buffaloes on Jan. 12.
Although it took some time, coach Frank Martin’s changes paid off, with the six consecutive victories following the second loss of the season to Colorado. Senior guard Jacob Pullen has keyed the turnaround, averaging 25.5 points during the run.
“As long as we continue to move and cut and understand the shots we’re supposed to get out of it, I think that offense is pretty good to us as a team,” Pullen said. “We’re doing a good job of just being patient and getting what we need out of that offense.”
Pullen is the only repeat All-Big 12 first-team selection from last season.
“Jake’s earned everything that comes his way. He wins. He produces. He’s accountable,” Martin said. “He’s a standup kid. I wish I’d been that standup when I was 21 years old.”
Now the Wildcats will look to solve the fifth-seeded Buffaloes for the first time in 2010-11. Kansas State came into the season having won nine in a row in the series.
Colorado’s two victories over Kansas State, along with a 91-89 upset of then-No. 5 Texas on Feb. 26, have given it a chance for its first NCAA bid since 2003.
“K-State is playing as well as anybody in the country right now,” coach Tad Boyle said. “The good thing is our guys have some confidence and K-State is looking to even the score with Colorado. It should be a heckuva matchup.”
The Buffaloes’ NCAA hopes would have suffered a big blow with a loss Wednesday. Alec Burks, though, scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half as Colorado rallied for a 77-75 first-round win over Iowa State.
Burks, a native of the Kansas City area who was virtually ignored coming out of high school by Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State, was 7 for 10 in the second half.
“I felt like I wasn’t really aggressive in the first half,” Burks said. “So I felt like I tried to come out with a different mind-set, try to stay aggressive, get to the free-throw line, make some easy baskets.”
Burks hasn’t been much of a factor in Colorado’s victories over Kansas State, averaging 10.0 points - 9.5 below his average - and shooting 25.0 percent. The Wildcats have been hurt more by Levi Knutson, who’s averaged 18.0 points and gone 12 of 18 from the floor.
The winner will face No. 2 Kansas or Oklahoma State in the semifinals Friday.
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