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K-State preparing to face Oklahoma

By Greg Woods

Kansas State is no stranger to close endings to games, whether or not they end in the Wildcats’ favor.

Most recently, K-State (12-2, 1-1 Big 12) lost in the final five seconds Tuesday night to Kansas, when Svi Mykhailiuk’s travel went ignored and the Ukrainian guard’s buzzer-beater fell through the hoop. The Wildcats also faltered late against Maryland on Nov. 26, when Melo Trimble’s game-winner sank K-State after senior Wesley Iwundu missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

On the flip side, the Wildcats saw Texas rally and connect on all seven of its final shots Dec. 30, but the Wildcats hit nine of their last 10 free throws for a 65-62 win.

K-State’s knack for not finishing games doomed the Wildcats last season, when North Carolina finished on a 21-3 run to rally past K-State at the Sprint Center.

The difference between the 2015 Wildcats and this 2016-17 squad then, as K-State associate head coach Chris Lowery explained, is in the teams’ responses to each loss.

“Last year, our freshmen, when we lost to North Carolina, it took two weeks to get them back. They really melted down, and we couldn’t get them back,” Lowery said. “But this group, we lost a tough one to Maryland, and what we needed to get eventually. I think going through stuff last year really helped this group, to be able to bounce back and move forward.”

That’s what K-State is hoping for ahead of Saturday’s 2 p.m. home matchup with Oklahoma (6-7, 0-2 Big 12). Sooners head coach Lon Kruger echoed Lowery’s thoughts.

“(K-State is) a year older, a year more experienced, a year more confident,” Kruger said. “A lot of different guys able to make shots ... a lot of good players.”

And that’s what K-State and Oklahoma share in struggles: finishing games.

The Horned Frogs downed Oklahoma, 70-67, and the Sooners also lost to Wichita State, Memphis, Auburn and Northern Iowa all by less than four points this season.

From that perspective, coaching the inexperienced group he does is a challenge for Kruger.

“We’ve had a lot of close games that we haven’t finished,” he said. “When you don’t win some close games, it starts working on you from an offensive standpoint.”

The two teams enter Saturday following vastly different paths. The Sooners have lost five straight, while the Wildcats are 7-1 over their last eight games.

But as it approached a young Texas team, then vacillating between red-hot and ice-cold, K-State remains cautious of the new-look Sooners.

“On tape, they’re just as scrappy and tough as they’ve always been,” Lowery said.

But there’s also reason for Lowery, aside from knowing they came a missed 3-pointer away from dethroning Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, to believe they can win a ninth straight home contest.

Oklahoma’s roster includes just two returning starters, among them standout guard Jordan Woodard, who has missed his team’s last three games with a leg injury, and for whom there is “no timeline” for a return, Kruger said.

“They’ve got young guys in positions where, in the league, there are older guys who are superstars,” Lowery said.

“The best players are gone. They’re down for a reason.”

Oklahoma started its Big 12 slate with a pair of home losses, to Baylor Dec. 30 and TCU. 

But as disappointing as the Wildcats’ last loss may be, Kruger expects K-State’s best on Saturday.

“You always expect them to play well,” Kruger said.  “Bruce’s teams always play hard ... We’ve got to do what we can to break that up and change that.”

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