74-65…In the end that's all that mattered to K-State players and coaches. Talk of streaks and showdowns meant little in an effort to climb out of a hole dug in previous weeks. While the Wildcats added another one to the loss column, Coach Jim Wooldridge did find a silver lining to the contest. "(The players) had a chance to fold their tents and go home," Wooldridge said. "I heard guys talking in huddles and timeouts- it was encouraging."
Wooldridge couldn't fault the effort of his players. "I think our guys played as hard as they could."
The oft-mentioned streaks seemed to mean little to a group of players focusing on the task at hand. "This game was bigger than Kansas and Kansas State," said Lance Harris, who contributed 11 points off the bench for the Wildcats. As for the games that follow? "(We have to) come out and play harder. We have our backs against the wall," Harris said.
K-State failed in their attempt to end their losing streak to KU, which now lies at 22 straight victories; but the final score doesn't quite do the battle that took place in the final minutes of the contest justice.
Beginning the second half with a ten-point handicap, the Wildcats did nothing out of the gate to provide the Wildcat faithful with much confidence. KU came out hot in the second half and increased its lead to 16. It seemed like the Jayhawks in attendance might be warming up their pipes for that chant dealing with matter out of a geology course, which will go unnamed in this article.
K-State did not allow the proverbial fat lady to sing. With less than six minutes to play, KU still held a 12-point lead over K-State. Seconds later, Fred Peete stepped up and hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to nine. On the ensuing defensive possession, Jeremiah Massey stepped in a passing lane and stole a pass, led a fast break, pulled an ankle-breaking crossover at the free throw line, and put in a reverse lay up on which he drew a foul. K-State fans felt something was brewing, and their hopes were only heightened after a Cartier Martin lay in on the next possession, slicing the lead to four, 58-54, with 4:33 remaining. Wildcat fans roared as the score had been sliced down to a two-possession lead.
When asked what keyed the Wildcats' second half run, Coach Jim Wooldridge matter-of-factly replied, "We just made some shots. I think that's the key when you play a team that has as many weapons as they have."
The Cats would not get any closer, as Wayne Simien, J.R. Giddens and Keith Langford would score 13 or KU's final 18, including many scores off of free throws, as the Wildcats worked to conserve the clock.
Jeremiah Massey and Fred Peete led the Wildcats in both scoring and intangibles. Both members of this Wildcat duo scored 20 to go along with making big plays throughout the comeback. "I was really pleased with (Peete's) overall performance and how he handled himself out there… I think tonight was a step in the right direction for him," Wooldridge said of the sophomore guard stepping up as scorer, as well as a leader.
The Wildcat's spent much of the second half working their offense through Massey in the post. "Once we got it in the post, we knew he would finish (the plays)," said Peete of Massey's strong play down low. Wooldridge was also impressed by Massey's ability to score. "He's finding ways to get it in the basket," Wooldridge said. "He's a unique player in a lot of ways.
The anticipation for the Sunflower Showdown match up at Bramlage Coliseum was definitely present. The line to get through the gate at the student's entrance extended all the way to the parking lot, and students chanted "K-S-U" as they waited for the gates to open. Later on, inside "the Fred," a packed student section greeted the Jayhawks with a chorus of boos as they took the floor for pregame warm-ups. The taunting from the KSU faithful only got louder as the Jayhawks went through their pregame calisthenics routine.
"Any given night, there's no telling who will win." These were the word of Fred Peete following the loss. Such wasn't the case for the Wildcats, but his words seemed to show a sign of confidence for the next time these teams meet. But the team has some business to take care of before then. The Wildcats must end a losing streak that is threatening to keep the team out of postseason play.
K-State's efforts to right their ship begin Saturday at Texas. "We're going to have to get a quick turnaround and get going… You can't run and hide from it," Wooldridge said of the remaining schedule. For their postseason dreams to continue, a victory, if not two, will be necessary on the Wildcats' forthcoming road trip.
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