The Inside Slant

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State must recover quickly from Monday's 59-53 loss to Sunflower State rival Kansas because the road ahead is daunting.

As Wildcats try to end their two-game losing streak and push for an NCAA Tournament berth, they face consecutive road games against Top 10 teams, Baylor and Missouri.

Saturday's contest against Baylor is a rematch of the Bears' 75-73 win on Jan. 10.

Though Baylor (22-4, 9-4 Big 12) has not played up to its potential of late, the Bears have a roster replete with NBA talent. Sophomore forward/center Perry Jones III had 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting along with eight rebounds during that January contest.

A major weakness for Kansas State was on display against Baylor, as the Wildcats turned the ball over 20 times, including 13 off steals by the Bears. Kansas State (17-8, 6-7 Big 12) has committed at least 11 turnovers during each of its Big 12 games.

"That continues to be a problem," coach Frank Martin told the Lawrence (Kans.) Journal-World. "We make boneheaded plays."

While Kansas State must handle the ball better, Baylor's zone defense must do a better job containing junior guard Rodney McGruder. During the Jan. 10 game, he scored 30 points on 10-of-14 shooting.

The Wildcats hope that McGruder can bring them out of their offensive doldrums, as they have shot less than 31 percent during two of their past three games.

STAR WATCH:

Senior forward Jamar Samuels, Kansas State's leading rebounder, had his best performance of the season against Kansas. Often guarding Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson, Samuels finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds and was surprisingly effective from the perimeter. Samuels entered the game having made just eight 3-pointers all year, but he hit four of six from behind the arc.

"Jamar's been awesome," coach Frank Martin told the Lawrence (Kans.) Journal-World. "The growth that he has shown over the last 4 1/2 years -- I hope my kids grow up like that during their college experience."

NOTES, QUOTES

Texas beats Wildcats at their own game

Frank Martin was quick to credit Texas, and in particular the Longhorns' veteran coach, Rick Barnes, after Kansas State surrendered a 15-point second-half lead on Feb. 11 and were manhandled 75-64 on the road.

The Wildcats coach appreciated the intensity the Longhorns displayed and said it reflected the toughness he admired in Barnes' teams ever since Martin was coaching high school basketball.

While the praise was nice, the fact remained that Kansas State seemed to soften considerably after Texas turned up its defensive might. The Wildcats, who made three straight 3-pointers at the end of the first half to create a 13-point lead at the break, backed down and failed to get good looks for their two best shooters, Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling.

Both deserved blame for their lack of movement, but then screeners also failed to provide clearance. Just a few days removed from Martin calling out the team for failing to uphold its identity for playing hard (some contend as hard as virtually any Division I team), the Wildcats did not look tough at all at Texas.

The loss marked the second straight game Kansas State squandered a double-digit advantage, as the Wildcats previously fell at Iowa State after holding a 14-point margin with 14 minutes remaining. Kansas State will be challenged to finish .500 in league, a standard that has been required in the past for a conference member to draw an NCAA Tournament bid.

--Freshman F Adrian Diaz logged a season-high 29 minutes at Texas on Feb. 11, contributing 11 points off the bench on 5-for-10 shooting. It was the first time he cracked double figures as a scorer. At 6-10, Diaz possesses a great offensive skill set than Kansas State's other big men and handles the ball better. He usually maintains a high position with the ball so it is less apt to get stripped.

"Adrian gives us a skill level that's real good," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "But Adrian also is very weak. And as you saw in the second half, when the game got physical, it was hard for him to hold his ground, it was hard for him to hold post-ups, it was hard for him to rebound."

--Kansas State did not go to the foul line in the second half against Texas while watching the Longhorns shoot 28 free throws. The disparity resulted in a 33-16 difference in fouls and a 35-8 scoring advantage for Texas from the stripe.

After the Wildcats' previous road game, in which they blew a 14-point lead in the second half at Iowa State, coach Frank Martin complained about blown foul calls down the stretch and the inability of G Rodney McGruder to get a call. He declined to be critical following the loss at Texas. "I didn't officiate," Martin said. "You'd have to ask them."

--Following the Oklahoma State defeat, all of the Kansas State players boarded the bus while Martin addressed the media. No players were made available, though a Kansas State spokesman at first indicated G Angel Rodriguez and G Will Spradling would speak to the media after Martin finished.

BY THE NUMBERS: 10 --

Wins through Feb. 12 for Kansas State this season, against no losses, when holding opponents to fewer than 60 points. The streak ended Monday when Kansas beat the Wildcats 59-53.

QUOTE TO NOTE:

"When we got punched in the mouth and got put on the ropes (at Texas), we got wrapped up with getting hit and broke down from our disciplines and our responsibilities. And we played selfishly on both sides of the ball. We didn't play team defense and if you play that way you're going to get beat." -- Kansas State coach Frank Martin.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--at Baylor, Feb. 18

KEY MATCHUPS:

The Bears claimed the first meeting, 75-73, as the Wildcats blew an opportunity with too many missed free throws. Solving Baylor's zone is difficult, though the Bears can be effective in a man-to-man defense as long as they defend hard. Kansas State can match up against Baylor's inside length. The Bears' outside shooting, however, is better with G Brady Heslip and G Pierre Jackson both streaky.

FUTURES MARKET:

Protecting leads is becoming a severe issue for Kansas State, particularly on the road. The Wildcats blew a 14-point margin in the last 14 minutes of a Jan. 31 loss at Iowa State then squandered a 15-point lead they enjoyed early in the second half at Texas before losing by 11.

Youth is to blame for some of the problem, and contributes to the careless handling of the basketball. In addition, Kansas State lacks a go-to player who can take charge since it is possible to prevent G Rodney McGruder from getting touches, which was the Longhorns' second-half objective.

PLAYER NOTES

--Freshman G Angel Rodriguez had played relatively well since being elevated to the starting lineup nine games ago. However, he had his worst game of the season Monday against Kansas. He finished scoreless, going 0-of-8 from the field with seven turnovers.

--Junior F Jordan Henriquez supplanted freshman F Thomas Gipson in the starting lineup Monday. Although Henriquez scored just four points, he held tough against Kansas' imposing front line, finishing with a season-high six blocks during his seventh start of the season.


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