Kansas St.-Kansas Preview
Two weeks ago, Kansas appeared to be cruising toward its ninth straight Big 12 regular-season title.
Now the Jayhawks are in danger of their longest losing streak in 24 years, and they must knock off their intrastate rival for the second time this season to avoid it.
The 14th-ranked Jayhawks host No. 10 Kansas State on Monday night looking to prevent the program's first four-game skid since an eight-game slide in 1989, which was also the last time they dropped back-to-back home games.
The Wildcats (19-4, 8-2) have taken control of first place in the conference, but they have lost 45 of 48 against Kansas, including 17 of 18 in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks claimed a 59-55 win at Kansas State on Jan. 22, holding the Wildcats to 35.1 percent shooting.
That was one of 18 straight wins for Kansas (19-4, 7-3) by an average of 16.1 points, with the team shooting 48.7 percent from the field in that stretch, but the Jayhawks have since sputtered with inconsistency at both ends of the floor.
Coach Bill Self's squad gave up a season-high regulation score in an 85-80 home loss to Oklahoma State on Feb. 2. The Jayhawks followed that with a season-worst 29.5 percent shooting performance in a 62-55 loss at TCU, which was previously winless in Big 12 play.
Kansas shot much better Saturday at Oklahoma - 46.3 percent - but struggled to recover after the Sooners hit 15 of their first 25 shots. Although his team still lost 72-66, Self felt better about the performance.
"Obviously three in a row is not good, but this game to me today, I'm not leaving out of here disgusted with my team at all because we actually played better," Self said.
"You don't go from being a good team to a bad team overnight," the coach added. "We've had a couple of bad outings, but we're still a good team."
Kansas State is, too, having won four in a row as it pursues its first-ever Big 12 title. The Wildcats are buoyed by a strong defense, which holds opponents to 58.3 points per game to lead the conference.
They also have four players shooting better than 36 percent from 3-point range, including leading scorer Rodney McGruder, who posted 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting in a 79-70 win against Iowa State on Saturday. Kansas State is hitting 40.6 percent from beyond the arc during its win streak.
After forcing a season-low four turnovers in the previous game against Texas Tech, the Wildcats made the Cyclones commit 20, scoring 27 points off those opportunities.
"Everybody's talking about, 'You guys are in first place,' and all that, but we're pretty much halfway through the Big 12, so there's a lot of games left," said Angel Rodriguez, who scored a season-high 20 against Iowa State. "Does it feel good? Yeah. But we can't settle."
Forward Thomas Gipson has provided a nice spark since moving to the bench, averaging 12.8 points on 61.8 percent shooting in the last four games. He posted 6.2 ppg while starting the previous 13 contests.
"My improvement has come from confidence and how my teammates have played this season," Gipson said. "It doesn't matter if I am starting or coming off the bench."
Shane Southwell led Kansas State with 19 points in the first meeting with Kansas while McGruder and Rodriguez struggled, combining to go 8 of 22 for 25 points.