Cats try to weather the storm

To say Kansas State has dominated Iowa State this season would be fairly accurate -- the women won in Ames, one of the most hostile environments in the Big 12, while the men ripped the Cyclones by 31 at Bramlage Coliseum on Feb. 11.

Now the venues are flip-flopped, as the Kansas State men travel to Hilton Coliseum in Ames for a 7 p.m. tip, televised live by Fox Sports Midwest. The women will welcome Iowa State to Bramlage for a 7 p.m. tip.

Tonight also marks senior night for the Wildcats (21-3, 12-1), what coach Deb Patteson called a very emotional night for the Wildcats family. But it may as well be called the first game of the Nicole Ohlde farewell tour. In addition to seniors Amy Dutmer and Kimmery Newsom, Ohlde, Kansas State's all-time leading scorer and reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, will suit up in Manhattan just twice more -- tonight on senior night and next Wednesday, when the Cats host Texas Tech on, fittingly, Nicole Ohlde night.

And Ohlde and crew will also be protecting its newfound lead in the Big 12. The Cats inched ahead of Texas about a double-overtime thriller at Missouri and a Texas loss to Texas Tech.

But Iowa State does present problems for the Wildcats. The Cyclones (13-11, 6-7) beat Kansas State in Ames last season and nearly upset the Cats this season, losing by just two. Starting the youthful exuberance of two freshmen and a sophomore, the Cyclones have won their last three games. Freshman Megan Ronhovde, a 6-1 guard, was named Big 12 Rookie of the Week after averaging more than 11 points and eight rebounds in wins against Kansas and Nebraska.

The men are trying to regain their step after falling at home to Colorado in a game the Cats could never quite get their feet under them. After a big road win, which snapped a 21-game conference road losing streak, Kansas State (12-11, 4-8) could not put together a two-game win streak for the first time since beating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Bethune Cookman in late December.

"It was a step back in the wrong direction," guard Tim Ellis said after the loss. "I don't think we had as much fight we didn't come in to lose this game."

Now the Cats invade Hilton, where top-25 teams Kansas and Texas have both been bushwacked. Iowa State has dominated at home at 13-1 this season and, with a 14-9 mark, are on the brink of NCAA Tournament elimination. Forget the fact that Kansas State hasn't won two games on the road, consecutively, in more than seven years.

But the Cyclones (14-9, 4-7) have struggled after turning heads early under new coach Wayne Morgan. Iowa State has lost five of its last six games but pushed No. 20 Kansas to the wire, falling in overtime in a questionable outcome that left Iowa State administrators seething. A freethrow was not awarded to Jared Homan on a two-shot foul, and Kansas hit an uncontested 3-pointer while Iowa State players looked around in disbelief. The shot counted, and those three points allowed Kansas to sneak into overtime.

Another problem facing the Cats entering tonight's contest is uncertainty of at least two players due to injury. First, and most obvious, is the lingering hip injury to guard Jarrett Hart, who has provided the most senior leadership and had averaged 15 points per game over the last four weeks.

"He hasn't practiced the last couple days," Coach Jim Wooldridge said. "We didn't anticipate him playing (against Colorado). Not using that as an excuse, but we need him scoring the basketball to get to a number we can win with."

Hart scored just five points in the game, spending his time on the bench riding a stationary bike. The other rumored injury is suspected to be to guard Dez Willingham, who had been averaging far more than 20 minutes per game but played just 18 against Colorado. He missed several games early in the season with a shoulder injury, and it is suspected that the same injury is bothering him again.

Willingham had stepped into the starting lineup and had solidified the same group with Tim Ellis, Hart, Marquis Hayden and Jeremiah Massey for the first time all season. They started for the fifth time overall, the first time that had happened to any lineup this season, and recorded such wins as the blowout at home to Iowa State and the road win at the Devaney Center against Nebraska.

The men and the women both have plenty to be playing for. For the men, at 12-11 and with four games remaining, a 3-1 finish would leave the Cats 15-12, and a split of the first two games of the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas would give the Cats 16 wins and serious consideration for an NIT berth. For the women, the groundwork is simple: win out for the out-right Big 12 title, a No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, and a shot at the elusive No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even with a loss down the stretch, if Kansas State wins two of its final three games, they will tie for the Big 12 title and, whether the loss is to Texas will decide the Big 12 Tourney's top seed.

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