Ask anyone affiliated with Kansas State’s athletics department or the men’s basketball program, and the response is the same: The brawl at the end of the previous edition of the Sunflower Showdown is in the past. It’s behind them. They’re ready to move on.
Now, for the first time since that 81-60 win by the Jayhawks in Lawrence on Jan. 21, the two teams will meet again at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Before, during and after the game, however, clips of the scuffle between the two teams — Silvio de Sousa and David McCormack of Kansas and James Love and Antonio Gordon of K-State all received multi-game suspensions from the Big 12 as a result of their actions — will play over and over on CBS, which will handle Saturday’s national television broadcast. K-State athletics director Gene Taylor is well aware this will come to pass.
But he said he won’t give it much thought.
“I get tired of seeing it, but in terms of the players, I think they’re just focusing on the game. It is what it is,” Taylor told The Mercury in a phone interview Thursday night. “The media and whoever (will) reshow it however many times, but I think from the players’ perspective, and ours, we’re just kind of preparing for the game like we normally would with a KU game. We’ve got a few more things we’re going to pay attention to, but for the most part, I think it’s just, ‘Let’s play the game and see what happens.’”
K-State, Taylor said, hasn’t talked to the Big 12 Conference since it handed down its punishments. Just like the Wildcats, the league has other things on its mind.
“They’ve moved on,” Taylor said. “We’ve had our own internal discussions about normal security for the KU game and just making sure the students don’t bring in signs that are inappropriate and that kind of stuff. But other that that, it’s just normal KU preparations.”
Taylor emphasized that while more security will be on hand Saturday than other games at Bramlage Coliseum, it has nothing to do with how last month’s game concluded.
“Our ‘normal’ for our KU game is definitely more than (other games),” he said, “but that’s typical for any KU game.”
Reinforcing Taylor’s assertion, the players themselves are focused solely on Saturday’s matchup and not the fracas that came to define their previous game with KU.
“Everything is in the past now,” senior wing Xavier Sneed said. “(We’re) just looking forward and getting ready for the game plan for this next one, the next one coming up and keeping our heads straight from there.”
Fellow senior Makol Mawien echoed Sneed’s words.
The brawl, he said, is out of sight and out of mind.
“It’s nothing to be worried about. It’s forgotten about,” Mawien said. “We’re just worried about the game plan and how to move forward. That’s it.”
Head coach Bruce Weber said the brawl was an oft-discussed topic with his team immediately after it happened. And he repeated that he’s reminded his players they need to do two things every time they take the floor.
“‘Act right. Play the game with class, win or lose,’” Weber said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Yet with the specter of the fight ever present, Weber said it’s also been used as teaching opportunity.
“Any little incident we’ve had since then — a rebound tussle or whatever — we’ve always brought it up to them,” Weber said. “(We’ve said), ‘Hey, we don’t need problems now. We’ve got to worry about ourselves and our game and getting better. We don’t need anything else.’ It was not great for Kansas, not good for K-State, not good for college basketball. But we’ve moved forward. We’ve got a chance to play in a special environment on Saturday against a really good team on national TV. What more can you ask for?”
In terms of the game itself, it marks K-State's second against an Associated Press top-two opponent this week: No. 2 Baylor walloped the Wildcats 85-66 in Waco, Texas, on Tuesday. Now, they'll host the top-ranked Jayhawks. K-State is just the fifth team since the 1996-97 season to face the top-two teams in the AP poll in the same week, and the first since West Virginia in 2016.
K-State has faced this type of two-game gauntlet only once before: At the 1964 Final Four, it took on No. 1 UCLA (a 90-82 loss) followed by No. 2 Michigan State (a 100-90 defeat) back when the NCAA Tournament still had a third-place consolation game.
Despite the enormity of the task in front of it, Sneed is undaunted.
"This is what you live for as a college athlete," he said, "so coming in here on these big stages and playing these big-time games, it's everything you live for and dream for."
Not that Weber is under any illusion it will be easy to upset the Jayhawks -- especially for a Wildcat club that enters on an eight-game losing streak, its longest since the 1999-2000 campaign. Weber is only 4-17 all-time versus KU coach Bill Self, but owns a .500 record (4-4) against his in-state counterpart at Bramlage.
He hopes that makes a difference Saturday.
"I think it's always a factor," Weber said of the home crowd. "But (the Jayhawks are) tough They just went to Baylor, against probably Baylor's biggest crowd of the year, and they just grounded it out, found a way to win. They went to West Virginia (and won) before that. They're just a tough-minded team."
Sneed said K-State's 74-67 victory in Manhattan last year was in large part "due to our tremendous crowd. Sneed said a similar turnout wouldn't hurt Saturday.
But it's on the Wildcats to make their support meaningful.
"Those guys (the fans) feed off what we do, so we've got to go out there and have no lax starts, get out there and play our best ballgame so our crowd can get involved as well," Sneed said. "When those guys get rocking, we get rocking. Then we're pretty hard to stop."