(AP) — This current group of Kansas State seniors is already the winningest class in school history.
Playing a part in the program’s first regular-season league title in 36 years surely would be an even greater accomplishment.
The 13th-ranked Wildcats try to move a step closer to a long-awaited conference championship Saturday night when they visit Baylor.
Kansas State (23-5, 12-3) is tied atop the Big 12 with rival Kansas, which has won at least a share of the past eight titles. The Wildcats are chasing their first regular-season league crown since winning the Big Eight in 1976-77.
Two of their final three games are on the road, including the regular-season finale at No. 15 Oklahoma State on March 9. The Cowboys trail both teams by one game.
“March is here,” coach Bruce Weber said. “Next game is in March, and you want to be playing your best basketball. We’ve got to keep improving because in a couple weeks from now, you lose, it’s over.”
Weber’s team kept pace with its fourth straight win, 75-55 over Texas Tech on Monday. Thomas Gipson scored a season-high 20 points and Angel Rodriguez added 16 as Kansas State reached 12 conference wins for the first time in 40 years.
The victory was the 97th for Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving, making them the winningest senior class in school history. That trio is on the verge of becoming only the second class in the program’s history to advance to the NCAA tournament in four consecutive seasons.
“I hope we keep adding onto that to where they get great distance and maybe no one ever catches them,” Weber said. “They’ve done well. They’ve stayed focused. We can’t look too far ahead. It’s one at a time.”
Gipson shot 7 of 9 and grabbed eight rebounds on Monday in place of Henriquez, who did not attend the game while traveling to New York for his grandmother’s funeral.
“We needed somebody to step up since JO’s not here, and I just made the effort to step up and play harder than I normally play, just made an effort to do it on offense and defense,” Gipson said.
As effective as Gipson was, the Wildcats will be glad to get Henriquez back. He has 32 points, 24 rebounds and nine blocks in his last two meetings with Baylor (17-11, 8-7).
The Bears avoided a season-high fourth straight loss and boosted their NCAA tournament hopes with a 65-62 victory at West Virginia on Wednesday. Freshman Isaiah Austin scored 21 points and Pierre Jackson had 15, including a pair of free throws with 17.9 seconds remaining to seal Baylor’s first win this season in a game decided by five points or less.
“Any win in the Big 12 is a great win, but I’m pleased because it’s on the road and it is so hard to win on the road,” coach Scott Drew told the school’s official website.
Even more impressive for Drew’s team would be a win over Kansas State, but the Bears have lost four in a row – all on the road – against Top 25 opponents since winning at then-No. 8 Kentucky on Dec. 1.
Jackson leads the conference with 19.1 points and 6.4 assists per game, but the Wildcats limited him to a season-low seven points on 2-of-8 shooting and five turnovers in an 81-61 victory in Manhattan on Feb. 16. Rodriguez had 22 points and 10 assists for Kansas State.
The Wildcats have won five of the past seven meetings overall and the last two in Waco by a combined three points.