(AP) — Oklahoma State and Kansas State have played each other for decades but haven’t faced off as ranked opponents in nearly 55 years.
That will change when the No. 22 Cowboys visit the 25th-ranked Wildcats to open Big 12 Conference play Saturday.
Oklahoma State and Kansas State began playing one another in the 1920’s but have only had three matchups when both were ranked and none since March 15, 1958, an NCAA regional championship game at Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse. The Wildcats won that game and enter this one having started 11-2 under first year coach Bruce Weber.
An upset of then-No. 8 Florida on Dec. 22 in Kansas City helped push Kansas State back into the rankings for the first time in 11 months. The Wildcats extended their win streak to four – one shy of tying a season high – with a 70-50 victory over South Dakota while playing short-handed again Monday.
Starting point guard Angel Rodriguez and reserve Martavious Irving have each missed the past two games and Weber was hoping to have both available for this one.
Rodriguez is one of two Wildcats players averaging in double figures (10.1 points per game) along with Rodney McGruder (13.7 ppg) and is dishing out a team-best 4.3 assists per contest.
“Obviously, we’ve got to get Angel and Tay back,” Weber said. “They give us another look. Those two guys are the start of our defense. Their biggest strengths, I think, are their defense and toughness. They really bothered the Florida guards last week, and you miss that.”
Oklahoma State heads into this game after having its season high-tying five-game win streak snapped Monday with a 69-68 home loss to No. 10 Gonzaga. The Cowboys (10-2) trailed by 11 in the first half but held a one-point lead with 1:03 remaining before the Bulldogs’ hit a 3-pointer.
Highly touted freshman Marcus Smart, who scored a season-high 23 points, missed a pair of free throws when his team had a chance to tie the game with 8.7 seconds left.
“This was a mental, physical game,” coach Travis Ford said. “We’ve got to get back and bounce back quickly.”
Oklahoma State has won 13 of 18 matchups with Kansas State in Big 12 play but was swept in last season’s series for the first time since 1987-88. McGruder had 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting in a 77-58 home win March 3, and he and Rodriguez each scored 14 in a 66-58 victory in Stillwater on Jan. 21.
Averaging 13.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and a team-best 5.2 assists, Smart’s presence might help the Cowboys regain their dominance in the series.
“I had a chance to be at USA Basketball with Smart last year, and he was by far the best player with that group,” Weber said. “He gives you ball skills, athleticism, intelligence and toughness. He’s special.
“(Facing Oklahoma State) is a tough start to the league but it’s one that if you get, you feel pretty good about.”
Winners of six straight conference openers, Oklahoma State is one of only two schools with a winning record at Bramlage Coliseum (9-7). The Cowboys upset the No. 10 Wildcats 73-69 in their most recent win there Jan. 23, 2010.