Kansas St.-Kansas Preview
It hasn’t been easy, but Kansas enters the weekend with a slim lead atop the highly competitive Big 12.
The Jayhawks should like their chances of holding on to the top spot with Kansas State coming to town.
Looking to stay unbeaten at home, No. 9 Kansas looks to avenge a rare loss to the Wildcats as these in-state rivals renew the Sunflower Showdown on Saturday.
"There is no question they’re a rival," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "We’ve developed rivalries with other programs and other teams, but certainly K-State’s had enough success against us of late, including the last time we played, that our guys look at it as a rivalry."
Kansas (17-3, 6-1) had taken six straight from the Wildcats (12-9, 5-3) before suffering an 85-82 overtime loss at Kansas State on Feb. 10. Marcus Foster led the way with 20 points as the Wildcats improved to 4-48 in the series dating to 1993-94.
A repeat performance seems unlikely in Lawrence, where the Jayhawks have won 19 of 20 against the Wildcats, including eight straight by an average of 20.4 points. Kansas is riding an 18-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse and has won 126 of its last 129 home matchups against unranked foes.
The Jayhawks return home after holding on for a 64-61 win over TCU on Wednesday. Frank Mason III had 16 points but was the only player to post double figures for Kansas, which had to sweat it out after getting outscored 13-5 over the final 3:11.
"I’ve been to the dentist and got a root canal and I may have enjoyed that slightly more than watching the last 2 minutes," Self said.
The Jayhawks sit one game ahead of No. 17 West Virginia and No. 15 Iowa State and 1 1/2 in front of Kansas State with February right around the corner.
"I think we’re not far off from being where I thought we would be, but how we got here has been up and down. It hasn’t been a consistent, smooth-sailing road, but I’m not sure that’s all bad, too," Self said. "I think all good teams need to go through some stuff and certainly we’ve gone through enough stuff, highs and lows, that may end up helping us down the road."
The Wildcats are looking to bounce back from Tuesday’s 65-59 loss to the Mountaineers. Foster had a game-high 15 points but committed six of the team’s season-worst 25 turnovers.
"We told them it was going to be a bar room fight and that is just how it was," coach Bruce Weber said as Kansas State shot 36.7 percent for its lowest mark in league play. "We had to go through it and learn from it. We still had chances. It is just disappointing to lose at home. We cannot hang our heads. We have to go to Kansas on Saturday and obviously it does not get any easier."
The Wildcats are ninth in the Big 12 with 65.4 points per game. They could have all the more difficulty keeping up without senior Nino Williams, who was ruled out with a knee injury suffered against West Virginia. Williams is averaging 11.7 points to rank second on the team, and he had scored 20.0 per game over the previous three before getting hurt.
Kansas State won 66-63 in overtime at then-No. 16 Oklahoma on Jan. 10 for its only victory in five road games. The Wildcats are 2-3 against Top 25 teams, with those games decided by a combined 21 points.