Kansas State lost sole possession of the Big 12 lead last week. It will drop out of the top spot completely with a loss in its next game.
The 13th-ranked Wildcats welcome West Virginia for the first time Monday night when Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins returns to Bramlage Coliseum for the first visit since his one season coaching in Manhattan seven years ago.
Kansas State (20-5, 9-3) entered last Monday’s game against then-No. 14 Kansas with a one-game conference lead, but its bid for a first-ever Big 12 title took a hit with its most lopsided defeat in two years, 83-62 in Lawrence.
The Wildcats, though, rebounded Saturday with an 81-61 home win over Baylor. Led by double-doubles from Angel Rodriguez (22 points, career-best 10 assists) and Jordan Henriquez (10 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks) and a career-high six 3-pointers from Shane Southwell, Kansas State remained tied with the Jayhawks and No. 17 Oklahoma State for the conference lead.
However, with those two facing off Wednesday in Stillwater, Kansas State has to defeat West Virginia (13-12, 6-6) to avoid playing catch-up with just five games left in the conference season.
“We won one, and now we move on in our little bracket to Monday night and get to play West Virginia at home, and see if we can do a little better than last (Monday),” coach Bruce Weber said.
The Wildcats have now posted a school-record seven consecutive 20-win seasons. That streak began in 2006-07 when Huggins led Kansas State to a 23-12 mark and an NIT appearance.
Huggins’ Mountaineers have won four of five after senior forward Deniz Kilicli’s career-best 25 points helped them to Saturday’s 66-64 victory over Texas Tech, but they still have work to do to strengthen their NCAA tournament resume.
West Virginia could help its case by hitting more free throws. The team has missed 31 of 83 attempts in the last three games after going 24 for 41 on Saturday.
“With some of these guys, if they make 1 of 2 you should probably be happy,” Huggins told the school’s official website.
The Mountaineers missed 10 of 22 foul shots in a 65-64 loss to Kansas State on Jan. 12.
With two free throws with 21 seconds left, Southwell tied Rodney McGruder for team scoring honors with 17 points. Southwell then blocked Gary Browne’s layup attempt with one second left to preserve the victory and help West Virginia improve to 2-1 in this series.
Browne got his first start of the season in that game - and guarded McGruder - as sophomore guard Juwan Staten was benched by Huggins for a disciplinary reason. Browne has been in the starting five in every game but one since then, while Staten has been a reserve except for two games. Staten hasn’t been much of a scoring threat lately with one total field goal in the last four contests, but he has more than twice as many assists (17) as any other Mountaineer during this stretch.
Rodriquez, fourth in the Big 12 with 5.0 assists per game, had two with a season high-tying four turnovers last month in Morgantown.
West Virginia has dropped all four games to Top 25 teams this season to extend its losing streak to ranked opponents to nine.
Kansas State, 14-1 at home, has won 13 straight against unranked visitors.