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Cats look to break losing skid vs. OU

By Joel Jellison

The Kansas State men’s basketball team lost two times to Oklahoma last season.

And they’re games that haven’t been forgotten.

It’d be hard to forget the way the Wildcats played against OU last season, getting beat 82-73 on the road in the fourth game of Big 12 play, and then losing 63-60 at home four games later.

K-State coach Bruce Weber said he has been finding ways to make his team think about Saturday’s matchup with Oklahoma (12-3, 3-0) without looking too far ahead.

“I’ve been hinting about it for awhile, and we’ve reminded them about being consistent as a team and not letting teams sneak up on you,” he said. “Last year they finished ahead of them in the league, so they should have beaten them at least once, if not twice.”

Past that, Oklahoma and No. 16 K-State (14-2, 3-0) are tied with Kansas for the Big 12 lead. The Sooners moved up to No. 14 in the RPI this week, giving the Wildcats a chance at a quality win, and another day atop the Big 12 standings.

Junior guard Will Spradling said there are a number of motivations for winning.

“That number one spot in the Big 12 is on the line, and it’s almost personal for us, just because of them beating us last year,” he said. “One of those we got smacked, it wasn’t even close, and then they came in here and beat us.”

The motivation is just as big for Oklahoma. With a win, the Sooners would likely climb into the top 25. And OU coach Lon Kruger is a former K-State player and coach, who’d surely like to pick up a win against his old team. The Sooners have won five of the last seven meetings with the Wildcats, and are 8-9 in Bramlage Coliseum.

Weber and Kruger have met just once before, as Illinois and UNLV squared off in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament, with the Illini winning 73-62. It was Kruger’s final game with the Rebels, before he left to take the job at Oklahoma. Kruger is 4-1 in his career against K-State.

Weber said Kruger has spoken with him often since he arrived at K-State.

“Obviously he pays attention,” he said. “I’ve gotten texts and notes from him along the way, he’s just a great person and I think he’s a great representative of our coaching profession. I’ve said this before, I’m not sure if there’s anyone that dislikes him. I’m sure there is somebody along the way, but he does it the right way and everyone appreciates what he’s done.”

The Wildcats’ losses last year might have been due to Oklahoma’s depth, something the Sooners still possess this season.

In the first matchup last season, then-coach Frank Martin admitted several players ran stairs throughout Bramlage Coliseum, while the rest of the team practiced, the day before the game.

A fresher, and more deep Oklahoma team took advantage to beat a ranked K-State team at home.

Weber said the best example of just how deep the Sooners are, is that Sam Grooms and Andrew Fitzgerald, who started last season, both come off the bench. And the biggest area that depth aides Oklahoma, is in the paint.

“I think the big thing is that the bigs give you such a mismatch,” Weber said. “It’s going to be tough for us, and it might be one of the reasons last year they were able to beat K-State.”

The Sooners return Steven Pledger and Romero Osby in their lineup this season, the two guys that primarily hurt the Wildcats last season. Pledger is scoring 11.5 points per contest, while Osby is at 13.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.

One of the additions to the Sooners lineup this season has given the team a somewhat unexpected shot in the arm. Buddy Hield, a freshman from Wichita Sunrise Academy, is averaging 9.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and will make his return to the state of Kansas on Saturday.

Weber said he had a chance to see what type of player Hield could be.

“He gives them good energy, he’s very, very active,” he said. “We went down to Sunrise just to watch those guys workout in the spring and he was still working out. Very energized, vocal, plays really hard — he’s given them a nice little lift.”

It will be the second time since Big 12 play started that the Wildcats play in what they’re labeling as a “revenge game.” K-State beat West Virginia 65-64 last Saturday behind a 17-point performance from Shane Southwell, getting back a game it lost last season in Wichita.

Southwell said they have something to prove against the Sooners.

“We just want to get this win because revenge is sweet and we want to show that we can beat them this year,” he said. “They’re a very good team. They gave us a lot of trouble last year and this year they are giving a lot of teams trouble.”

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