K-State kicks off final stretch at Texas

By Greg Woods

The ghosts of perennial Big 12 powerhouses are in Kansas State’s rearview mirror.

It didn’t happen how the Wildcats would have preferred — they managed just one win in their last four games, all against the league’s top four teams — but their last five games of the regular-season slate are all against teams in the bottom half of the Big 12.

First up is a road matchup with Texas 1 p.m. on Saturday that will air on the Longhorn Network.

The Longhorns are just one of five league foes K-State (16-10, 5-8) has knocked off this season, coming in both teams’ Big 12 opener back on Dec. 30. The Wildcats eked out a 65-62 win in Manhattan and survived a late Texas (10-16, 4-9) comeback that saw the Longhorns connect on all seven of their final shots.

K-State used a 9-of-10 effort from the free throw line in the final minute to stave off Texas’ surge.

Since then, both teams have fallen from grace. The Longhorns were already off to a sub-.500 start to the season when they lost in Manhattan, and Texas promptly lost five of its next six games.

Save for a few signature wins, the Wildcats haven’t been much better. They’ve dropped six of their last seven games, the only bright spot in that span for K-State a road win at then-No. 2 Baylor.

In Texas coach Shaka Smart’s mind, the Wildcats’ 87-79 home loss to Iowa State on Wednesday won’t have much bearing on Saturday’s tilt.

“We were just talking about that — whether it’s better to play a team coming off a win or a loss,” Smart said. “For K-State, they’ve got some guys that have been around. They’ve been through the wars of the Big 12 before. Very, very well coached. So they’re going to be highly motivated and ready to play.”

The Wildcats’ recent struggles extend beyond the win-loss column, though. Senior forward D.J. Johnson, after spraining his ankle in K-State’s loss to Kansas on Feb. 6, played just 11 minutes Wednesday, recording zeroes in both points and rebounds.

K-State coach Bruce Weber added Wednesday that sophomore point guard Kamau Stokes underwent a small toe procedure before the Iowa State game in order to play. Stokes played 35 minutes and registered 13 points.

It makes for a hobbled K-State team that can ill afford to lose two of its best players, and Johnson’s status remains questionable for Saturday’s game. Weber said he hasn’t practiced since Feb. 5.

As for Stokes, Weber said he didn’t practice Thursday after jamming his toe.

“Lots of treatment and ice and working with it, massaging it, all that,” Weber said. “Hopefully we can have him ready for Saturday.”

If Stokes doesn’t have the green light Saturday, guard Barry Brown may need to step up. The sophomore broke out of a slump Wednesday and recorded a career-high 21 points, in addition to notching his first 3-pointer since his squad lost to TCU Feb. 1.

“I thought he attacked the hoop,” Weber said. “He was a little more patient; got to the basket. When you go 9-for-14, that’s a pretty good outing.”

On Texas’ side, Jarrett Allen leads the charge with 13.2 points per game to go along with 8.5 rebounds per contest.

Guard Tevin Mack leads the team in scoring, but he hasn’t played since Jan. 11 due to a suspension.

Wesley Iwundu continues to pace K-State with 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

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