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Wildcats open final six-game stretch

By Joel Jellison

Now done with a brutal three-game schedule against top 15-ranked teams, the Kansas State men’s basketball team is entering the final stretch.

The Wildcats host Iowa State on Wednesday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2 with hopes of breaking out of a slump that’s seen the team win just one of its last five games.

K-State (16-9, 5-7 Big 12) didn’t take full advantage in its three games against the top three teams in the league, but Wildcat coach Bruce Weber said there are more chances to take advantage of in the final six games.

“We have a great opportunity ahead of us,” Weber said. “Even though every game is tough, we just played three of the toughest teams in a stretch. We’re done with all six of the games against the top three. Now, you have a good opportunity ahead of you. Let’s have a good finish.”

K-State enters Wednesday’s game still uncertain about the status of starting forward D.J. Johnson. The senior missed a start for the first time this season at West Virginia and didn’t play after injuring his ankle late in the Wildcats’ 74-71 loss to Kansas.

Johnson called his availability for Wednesday a game-time decision and chose not to answer a question about whether he’d practiced since the West Virginia game.

Weber said Johnson has made progress this week, but said they had to wait until closer to tipoff to decide his status.

“He started running and doing some shooting and things,” Weber said. “We’re just hoping through getting that foot moving, he’ll be able to fight through it. We’ll just have to wait and see if he’s able to give us anything.”

Without Johnson the Wildcats struggled with post depth against the Mountaineers. The game was tied at 34 at halftime, but energy slowly disappeared for K-State in the 85-66 loss.

Johnson’s absence from the floor also forced the Wildcats to move Dean Wade to center. One game after scoring 20 against Kansas, the sophomore was held to five points and admitted her struggled playing out of position.

“It was pretty hard,” Wade said. “It made me appreciate (Johnson) a lot more.”

K-State’s first go around with the Cyclones was a thriller. The Wildcats overcame a 17-point halftime deficit and took the lead late, only for Iowa State to charge back and secure a 70-65 win at home.

Iowa State’s effort in the game was led by Matt Thomas’ 25 points, including seven 3-pointers.

Weber said that can’t happen again, but Thomas isn’t the only worry.

“We better know where he is,” Weber said, “but Naz (Long) can get going. (Deonte) Burton has had his games. One of our messages is we need someone to be special on our team. Teams have done it against us, now we have to return the favor.”

Iowa State made 11 3s in the win over the Wildcats, but Weber said they have to focus on more than just the long-range shots.

“You have to stop that, but you can’t also give them layups,” he said. “You get all stretched out and give them layups. You’ve got to limit those easy looks and it starts with transition defense.”

K-State is currently projected into the NCAA tournament field by many bracket specialists, but there’s no doubt the Wildcats still have work to do over the remainder of the schedule.

Wade said the team knows what lies ahead after winning just one of its three straight games against ranked opponents. None of K-State’s final six opponents are currently ranked.

“I don’t think any other team in that nation had that opportunity,” he said. “We just didn’t jump on it like we should have. It was good we got one of them at least. These next six games are big for us.”









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