Texas-Kansas St. Preview

The Associated Press

Before Kansas State takes the court in Kansas City, it will already have experienced one of the best seasons in program history.

Coach Bruce Weber is still hoping for more.

The 11th-ranked Wildcats will try to avoid a third straight opening-round loss at the conference tournament on Thursday night when it faces an improving Texas team in the quarterfinals.

Despite losing 76-70 at then-No. 13 Oklahoma State in its regular-season finale last Saturday, Kansas State (25-6) earned a share of the Big 12 title with Kansas after the perennial conference champs were routed later than night at Baylor.

It is the Wildcats' first conference title since 1976-77 when they played in the old Big Eight.

Kansas State has also recorded the most regular-season wins in school history and tied the 1958-59 team for the most conference wins with 14.

"It's been fun. It's been a blast,'' said Weber, who earned Big 12 coach of the year honors after winning a record number of games for a first-year Wildcats head coach. "I just hope, for their sake there's some more good things to come.''

The Wildcats have not enjoyed any success in the last two Big 12 tournaments, losing to Baylor and Colorado after falling to Kansas in the 2010 title game. That was the furthest Kansas State has advanced in this event.

The second-seeded Wildcats are 10-0 against Texas teams this season, including two wins against the Longhorns (16-16), but this could be a tough draw for the Big-12 co-champs.

Led by 19 points from Julien Lewis and 16 and six assists from sophomore guard Myck Kabongo, Texas won a season high-tying third straight on Wednesday, 70-57 over TCU. The seventh-seeded Longhorns are 6-3 since Kabongo returned from a 23-game NCAA suspension for receiving improper benefits.

"There's no doubt, put it rust, feel, whatever - he's played nine games this year. He sat for a long time,'' coach Rick Barnes said after the team's eighth consecutive opening-round Big 12 tournament victory. "I do think we're figuring some things out with a full rotation. We never got to do that in practice with Myck.''

The Longhorns' last four-game winning streak was Feb. 4-14, 2012.

"They're a dangerous team right now,'' TCU coach Trent Johnson said. "If anybody is capable of winning three more games here, it's them.''

Kabongo missed an 83-57 loss at Kansas State on Jan. 30 - the Wildcats' most lopsided victory in this series since Dec. 8, 1971 - but he finished with teams highs of 24 points and six rebounds in an 81-69 home loss to Kansas State on Feb. 23.

Wildcats senior Rodney McGruder, who had a team-best 20 points in that game, takes the floor for the first time since being named to the All-Big 12 team. Weber might have to lean on him and sophomore guard Angel Rodriguez, a second-team All-Big 12 pick, even more with junior guard Will Spradling (bruised sternum) and forward Jordan Henriquez (back) nursing injuries.

No matter who takes the floor for the Wildcats, the Longhorns know that advancing to Friday's semifinal against No. 3 seed Oklahoma State or sixth-seeded Baylor is going to be a challenge.

"They know how to win, they know each other, and I think it's a team that really understands its roles extremely well," Barnes said. "It's a team that stays together.

"Again, what can you say?'' Barnes asked. "They're the conference champions.''

The teams have met once in Big 12 tournament play, a Texas 61-58 quarterfinal victory in 2009. Kansas State is 5-1 in the series since that defeat.

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