The Inside Slant

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State came so close to pulling off an impressive double. Kansas State travels to Norman, Okla., on Saturday to play a struggling Sooners team as Big 12 play continues.

Kansas State ============

GETTING INSIDE

Kansas State came so close to pulling off an impressive double.

The Wildcats fell 75-73 to fourth-ranked and undefeated Baylor on Tuesday night in Manhattan after upsetting seventh-ranked and then-undefeated Missouri on Saturday.

Kansas State travels to Norman, Okla., on Saturday to play a struggling Sooners team as Big 12 play continues.

The Sooners have lost three straight and four of their last five to fall to 10-4, but two of the three consecutive defeats have been to Missouri and No. 15 Kansas. The latest loss was to Oklahoma State, and it came despite 20 points and 10 rebounds from Sooners guard Carl Blair Jr.

Guard Steven Pledger leads the Sooners with an average of 17.2 points per game, and he is hitting at a .451 clip on his 3-point shots.

The Wildcats will have to put the stunning loss to Baylor behind them, which won't be easy. Kansas State led 71-67 late and was outscored 8-2 over the final minutes as the Bears managed to move their record to 16-0, 3-0 in the conference.

Kansas State fell to 12-3, 1-2 in conference play.

"We are good enough to beat them, and obviously, we have not done it two out of three times," said coach Frank Martin, whose team has also lost to Kansas. "We are not going to go home and cry. We are not going to take our ball and go home and not want to do it anymore.

"It is just disappointing that we did not get it done. The (conference schedule) is 18 games, and we are only three games in. Give Baylor credit, they are a good team."

ON THE SPOT:

Coach Frank Martin wasn't thrilled with the play of his frontcourt in Tuesday night's loss to Baylor.

"I am just disappointed," he said. "When the frontline has more turnovers than defensive rebounds, it is hard to win."

NOTES, QUOTES

Improved defensive effort helped produce upset of Missouri

--Kansas State desperately needed to find a way to reassert its physical toughness.

After getting dominated at Kansas in the Big 12 opener, the Wildcats were not exactly on the verge of collapse. However, they did want to avoid an 0-2 start like they suffered the previous season, when Kansas State underachieved as Big 12 favorites.

"When you get embarrassed, one of two things happens to your team," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "You either come apart at the seams or the seams get a little tighter together."

By tightening up, the Wildcats suffocated the Big 12's top-shooting team and earned a 75-59 win over Missouri. The Tigers, who entered the game as one of only four remaining unbeaten teams in Division I, also were shooting better than 50 percent on the season.

Against the Wildcats, however, the Tigers' percentage dipped 19 points below their season average, and they didn't hit 40 points until less than nine minutes remained.

"Our discipline defensively early in the game never let them get in a rhythm," Martin said.

Defense is the one strength the Wildcats can turn into a constant. They cannot rely so much on their offense because no go-to scorer exists on the team and shooters are too prone to going too cold for too long from outside range.

But with physicality underneath, Kansas State should still turn rebounds into points with a sturdy and deep front line. That group was outplayed at Kansas but recovered by establishing a 39-25 advantage on the glass against Missouri.

"We did not play hard against Kansas," Martin said. "That's not who we are. We were out of character. We refocused and were kind of back in character (against Missouri)."

--Kansas State had 18 assists and 20 turnovers in the loss to Baylor, while the Bears posted 20 assists and 18 turnovers.

--K-State is 2-2 against top 25 teams this season.

--Sophomore G Will Spradling on the Baylor loss: "It really just came back on us. When they made their run is when we did not play offense. We either put up quick shots or we were just making careless mistakes. We turned it over a lot more than we have been, and that is just something that we cannot do."

--With the defeat against Baylor, the Wildcats lost for the second time in 12 games in which they've scored 70 or more points this season.

--Of the 10 teams left in the Big 12, Kansas State probably drew the toughest start. The Wildcats opened on the road against Kansas, the seven-time defending Big 12 champion. Then, Kansas State at least got to return home for games against Missouri and Baylor, though both opponents were among the last four unbeatens in Division I. The homestand was launched by handing the Tigers their first defeat, 75-59.

"Gotta love the Big 12," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "Go on the road, play a top-15 school. Come home, play the seventh team in the country. Then enjoy this a whole lot so you can play the fourth team in the country."

--Freshman Thomas Gipson earned a spot in the starting lineup early in the season when he led Kansas State underneath and influenced play with his strong body.

But as the Wildcats began facing bigger, and better, opponents, the 6-foot-7 forward was not as effective. To remedy the issue, Martin removed Gipson from the lineup for the Missouri game and replaced him with junior Jordan Henriquez. The switch inspired both players. Henriquez posted 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Gipson, who went scoreless against Kansas, bounced back to contribute nine points and five rebounds.

"I made a decision and both of those guys handled it like big-time champs," Martin said. "They were awesome. They both impacted the game in a very powerful way."

--The victory against Missouri was the second against a ranked opponent for Kansas State, which earlier beat then-No. 17 Alabama. In his fifth season as Kansas State coach, Martin has 18 victories against ranked opponents.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14 --

Home-court winning streak for Kansas State in Bramlage Coliseum, through Jan. 8, the longest string since the arena opened in 1988-89.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"We really got after it (in practice following the Jan. 4 loss at Kansas). That toughness that we had in practice, we brought that to the game. I feel like Missouri hadn't seen a team that really got up and pressured like we did." -- Kansas State G Will Spradling.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES: --at Oklahoma, Jan. 14

KEY MATCHUPS:

The game will be the first against Oklahoma since Lon Kruger took over as the Sooners' coach. Kruger was an All-Big Eight guard for the Wildcats, whom he later coached to four NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons from 1986-90. Oklahoma is thin on talent and off to an 0-2 conference start following double-digit defeats to Missouri and Kansas. G Steven Pledger is an outside threat, while F Andrew Fitzgerald and F Romero Osby are tough on the glass.

FUTURES MARKET:

Although G Rodney McGruder is capable of big nights scoring, he is inconsistent and must work to get baskets off stick-backs and penetration, in addition to open jumpers. When he struggles, the Wildcats need garbage points underneath to help boost the attack.

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior G Rodney McGruder was a one-man gang for Kansas State in its 75-73 loss to No. 4 Baylor on Tuesday night. He scored a career-high 30 points, going 10-for-14 from the floor, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range. McGruder was also 8-for-8 from the foul line and led his team with six rebounds while adding three assists.

"I just wanted the victory," he said. "That is all that is going through my mind. We were close, and we just gave it away. We had the lead; we got lackadaisical with the ball. We acted like we were trying to come back and not take care of the ball when we had the lead."

--Junior F Jordan Henriquez scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds in the loss to Baylor. He was 5-for-9 from the floor.

--Senior F Jamar Samuels, who missed the first two games of the season because of a suspension, failed to score in double figures for just the second time after recording just seven points against Missouri.

--Sophomore G Shane Southwell played 25 minutes as a reserve against Missouri and led the Wildcats with six assists. He added four points and five rebounds.


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