Cyclones, Wildcats in thick of race

By Joel Jellison

When Kansas lost 62-55 at TCU on Wednesday, much of the nation was left in shock.

Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber, who’s team is now tied for first in the Big 12 with the Jayhawks, didn’t watch a second of the game.

But it’s what Weber has been telling his team could happen to anyone at anytime in the Big 12. And it’s why he’s making sure his team doesn’t look ahead of Iowa State on Saturday at home.

“I was recruiting, I was getting texts, it’s just kept dinging and dinging,” Weber said. “All you can do is have high expectations for yourself.”

The Wildcats will have plenty motivational factors for this weekend’s game, firstly, breaking the three-game losing streak to the Cyclones. K-State lost in Ames on Jan. 26, and the players are labeling Saturday’s game as a revenge game.

Senior guard Rodney McGruder said the Wildcats know they’re back in the position they were before losing two straight games to Iowa State and Kansas in the last week of January.

“It’s the same motivation we had before we took the loss to Kansas and at Iowa State,” he said. “You’ve got to just go out and take advantage of the next opportunity and don’t dwell on it.”

Weber said he has told his team that the opportunity to challenge for the league could come back around after the two-game losing streak. But he admitted he was surprised that it would come via a two-game losing streak from Kansas at the beginning of February.

And he wants his team to remember the same thing could happen if it doesn’t come ready to play.

“Anything can happen,” Weber said. “I guess it was a little more crazy than anyone anticipated, but our goal was to be in the race when we went back to Kansas. Now that’s still the goal, that means you’ve got to take care of business against Iowa State.”

Still, McGruder said the Wildcats belong in the spot they are in the league, tied for first in February for the first time since 1988.

“We work hard, we come in and practice every day, we put in the effort so we deserve the spot that we’re in,” he said. “We’ve just got to go out and prove it on Saturday.”

The Wildcats know what they have to avoid against Iowa State in round two, namely improving on the boards and in the paint. The Cyclones made a number of 3-pointers in their win over K-State, but the Wildcats also allowed an overwhelming number of second-chance points.

Weber said it can’t happen again.

“They’re going to shoot 3s, they’re very talented, they have a lot of weapons — you’ve got to make sure you eliminate the easy baskets,” he said. “We just allowed too many easy baskets beyond the 3s. Those and the offensive rebounds were the difference.”

Iowa State has motivation too. With the two straight losses by the Jayhawks, the Cyclones are now just a game out of first place. With a win over K-State, they could pass one of their hurdles toward a Big 12 title.

The Wildcats have talked about the Iowa State game as one they let get away. Weber said he hopes that’s one of the reasons the team comes better prepared, mentally, to play the game.

“(Thursday) we watched part of the first game — it makes us mad as coaches,” he said. “I hope it makes them mad and it’s a good motivator going into Saturday. There are just so many motivational things.

“We’ve just got to play. We can’t worry about the surrounding things.”

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