(AP) — The recent struggles of its in-state rival have opened the door for Kansas State near the top of the Big 12 race.
Now the 13th-ranked Wildcats must find a way to deal with Iowa State’s Will Clyburn, who burned them two weeks ago in Ames.
Kansas State will try to win its fourth straight on Saturday night – and avoid looking ahead – when it hosts a Cyclones team that looks to draw even with the Wildcats in the standings.
Following consecutive defeats to Kansas and Iowa State, Kansas State (18-4, 7-2) has won three straight to claim a share of first place in the Big 12 with the Jayhawks losing their last two.
While they haven’t exactly shined offensively, the Wildcats – who allow a conference-low 57.8 points per game – have lived up to their defensive reputation during their winning streak.
They’ve yielded an average of 55.3 points and limited opponents to 8-of-34 (23.5 percent) shooting from 3-point range in their last three after allowing 64.0 points per game in their previous three.
“Pressuring the ball and playing hard on defense is usually what gets us going,” sophomore Angel Rodriguez said.
Kansas State hopes to continue that effort against an Iowa State team that made 48.1 percent from the field and 11 of 22 from beyond the arc in a 73-67 win Jan. 26.
With that loss in mind, the Wildcats figure to be focused even with a trip to Lawrence to face the Jayhawks looming on Monday. First, they have to concentrate on stopping Clyburn, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds in last month’s meeting.
The senior guard has averaged 21.3 points and 7.3 boards in his last four games.
With consecutive home wins over Baylor and Oklahoma, Iowa State (16-6, 6-3) sits in a tie with Oklahoma State, one game behind Kansas and Kansas State.
“This is going to be a very difficult game for us,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “(The Wildcats) are playing just about as well as anybody in the league right now.”
Freshman Georges Niang, who scored 15 against the Wildcats, had averaged 16.0 in his previous three games before finishing with nine in a 83-64 win over Oklahoma on Monday.
Iowa State ranks among the nation’s leaders with 78.7 points per game, but has averaged 70.9 on the road while losing five of seven.
It’s not likely to be any easier at Kansas State, which has won 12 of 13 at home by an average of 18.1 points.
Senior Rodney McGruder, who had 13 points against the Cyclones, appeared to break out of his mini-slump with a team-high 18 in a 68-59 win at Texas Tech on Tuesday. He had totaled 14 on 4-of-13 shooting in his prior two contests.
Junior Will Spradling may also be a factor after scoring a team-high 15 points while hitting 4 of 5 from 3-point range in the first meeting.
The Wildcats shot 50.9 percent in the first meeting but only attempted nine free throws.
Iowa State has won three straight in the series, including two of three in Manhattan.