A brutal schedule to start Big 12 play has left No. 18 Kansas State with a losing conference record. Meeting Oklahoma could be a good way to get back on track.
Following three straight meetings with ranked opponents, the Wildcats hope to rebound Saturday when they visit the struggling Sooners, who are in danger of losing their first four conference games for the first time in more than 40 years.
Kansas State (12-3, 1-2) cruised through non-conference play but has stumbled against elite Big 12 competition. The Wildcats beat then-No. 7 Missouri last Saturday, but got routed at then-No. 14 Kansas on Jan. 4 and fell 75-73 at home against No. 4 Baylor on Tuesday.
Kansas State shot 50.0 percent from the field against the Bears but totaled only 28 rebounds - nearly 12 fewer than its season average - and committed a season-high 20 turnovers.
"When your frontline has more turnovers than defensive rebounds, it's hard to believe," coach Frank Martin said.
"The guys wearing our uniforms threw it to the guys wearing their uniforms so they could run down for dunks. ... To not close this game out because of a comedy of errors, it's embarrassing."
The Sooners (10-5, 0-3) are struggling even more in Big 12 play, having lost their first three conference games for the second consecutive season. Oklahoma hasn't opened conference play 0-4 since 1968-69, while a member of the Big Eight.
"Conference play is tough," said first-year Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, a Kansas State graduate who's 2-2 in his career against his alma mater. "The level of competition has gone up a lot. We have to realize that and try to prepare for that. (Oklahoma players) know this league is very, very good, and we have to do more things to make good things happen instead of just wanting good things to happen."
The Sooners are coming off a 72-65 loss Monday at Oklahoma State in which they shot a season-low 32.4 percent. They shot 45.4 percent while going 10-2 against non-conference competition, but have connected on only 34.3 percent against the Big 12.
"We're having trouble making shots," Kruger said. "We haven't shot the ball well in any game in conference play. We have to get better movement, we have to work harder to get better shots, we have to compete harder against better defenses."
Kansas State's success against unranked opponents doesn't bode well for Kruger's team. The Wildcats are 10-1 with an average victory margin of 15.7 against teams outside the Top 25. The lone loss came in double overtime against West Virginia on Dec. 8.
Kansas State's loss to Baylor overshadowed a strong performance by junior guard Rodney McGruder, who scored a career-high 30 points while going 10 for 14 from the field. McGruder, leading the Wildcats with 14.3 points per game, has averaging 21.4 and shooting 61.9 percent over his last five. He's 9 for 16 (56.3 percent) from 3-point range in that stretch.
"I just want to be more aggressive, attack and create a shot for myself," McGruder said. "That is where my game has improved."
McGruder scored 20 points - 15 of them on five 3-pointers - as Kansas State won its last meeting with Oklahoma 77-62 last Feb. 19 in Manhattan. The Wildcats have won four of five against the Sooners after an eight-game losing streak in the series.
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