Wildcats playing for Big 12 title

By Joel Jellison

The stage is set and both teams are ready. On Saturday, both Kansas State and Kansas will be playing on the road with a chance to win at least a share of the Big 12 title.

The No. 9-ranked Wildcats (25-5, 14-3) will play first this weekend though, tipping off at 12:30 in Stillwater, Okla., while the Jayhawks don’t play until later that evening at Baylor. In all likelyhood, KU will know what it’s playing for before it takes the court against the Bears.

The No. 13-ranked Cowboys (22-7, 12-5) lost their road finale at Iowa State on Wednesday, eliminating their chance to finish in a 3-way tie with K-State and Kansas if both were to lose.

But Oklahoma State has embraced the chance to play spoiler for the Wildcats this weekend, selling out Saturday’s game.

If the Jayhawks win, they will claim their ninth straight Big 12 regular season title and the No. 1 seed. The Wildcats can do no better than the No. 2 seed unless Kansas loses to Baylor.

The Wildcats are locked into one of the best seasons in school history, and under a first-year head coach to boot. They have knocked down school record after school record over the last month, and coach Bruce Weber said they have done it as a whole unit.

“I think we have great chemistry in the locker room and we’ve built a great relationship between the coaches and the players,” he said. “We have won 25 games because they bought in and now the thing is — do they want more?”

Oklahoma State features a pair of athletic guards in Markel Brown and Marcus Smart, who combine to average 30 points per game. On the inside, the Cowboys have an athletic forward in Le’Bryan Nash who is scoring 13.9 points per game. Add in 3-point specialist Phil Forte, averaging 10.6 points per game, and the Cowboys look like a balanced, dangerous team.

Smart had 25 points for the Cowboys and Brown added 19 in the first matchup with K-State, a 73-67 win for the Wildcats to open Big 12 play. Rodney McGruder posted his best performance of the season with 28 points, and Nino Williams scored 17 points off the bench.

The Wildcats are coming off a 79-68 win over TCU that featured an impressive 27 assists on 31 made field goals, to just nine turnovers.

TCU coach Trent Johnson said K-State is a well-rounded team.

“I don’t know if you all realize how good of a basketball team you have,” he said. “They’re efficient, and they play for one another more than any team I have ever been around in a long time.

“Enjoy your tournament run.”

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