Purps in the House

Kansas doesn't have much time to dwell on its 75-62 loss at Michigan State on Saturday.

Three days later, the Jayhawks begin conference play against K-State in the Sunflower Showdown. Tipoff is 7 p.m. tonight at Allen Fieldhouse.

With the non-conference season history, it’s a whole new start for Kansas basketball and also junior forward Mario Little. Last year’s Junior College Player of the Year has decided not to apply for a medical hardship and will be in action tonight and play the remainder of the season. Little has played in three games this season after battling back from a stress fracture in his lower left leg and a broken bone in left (non-shooting) hand.

“Mario slept on it after yesterday’s practice and this morning informed me he feels great and definitely wants to play and help this year’s team,” Self said today.

Self hopes Little gives the Jayhawks a lift tonight as Kansas aims to win its 18th straight conference opener. The Jayhawks and Wildcats enter the game with 11-4 records with K-State coming off a 61-53 loss to No. 6 Oklahoma at home on Saturday.

“They had Oklahoma down 26-19 if I’m not mistaken and they missed a three to go up 10,” KU coach Bill Self said on his Hawk Talk radio show Monday night. “OU came down and three straight possessions, banged in shots and actually goes ahead. OU played really well the second half, but still K-State was right there. They just didn’t make shots. They did a good job on the glass. (Blake) Griffin had a monster game (29 points and 15 boards). It was a game if things had gone a little bit differently during a key stretch of the game, K-State could have easily won.”

Junior guard Denis Clemente led the Wildcats with 18 points, while sophomore guard Fred Brown added 12.

K-State, which played a relatively easy non-conference schedule, has won six of its last seven games after losing three close games in late November and early December to Kentucky, Oregon and Iowa.

The Wildcats are a high scoring and strong rebounding team. K-State averages 79.6 points per game, while allowing just 61. The Cats lead the Big 12 in rebounding at 41.1 per game and rebound margin at +8.1. K-State also averages seven three-pointers per game.

Kansas State’s 1,194 points thus far are the fourth-most through 15 games in school history. The Wildcats have scored 90 or more points three times, including 107 against Gardner-Webb on Dec. 14, the most points in a non-conference game since 1994 and the highest point total since KSU burned Missouri for 111 on Jan. 3, 1998.

The Wildcats feature one of the best backcourts in the league in sophomore guard Jacob Pullen and Clemente. Pullen averages a team-high 14.3 points per game and has a team-best 35 threes and 53 assists. Clemente is next in scoring at 12.6 points per game, and also ranks second in assists with 43. Brown is another threat at the guard spot with 32 three-pointers and a 10.2 scoring average.

Up front, freshman forward Jamar Samuels averages 9.6 points and leads the team with 16 blocks. Senior forward Darren Kent paces the Wildcats in rebounding at 6.3 boards per game, while averaging 8.9 points. Athletic and rangy sophomore swingman Dominiqe Sutton chips in 8.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, while junior center Luis Colon rounds out the starting lineup with averages of 5.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Ron Anderson is a key reserve who averages 5.7 points and ranks second on the club with 6.0 rebounds per game.

While K-State lost stars Michael Beasley and Bill Walker off last year’s NCAA tournament team, Self is very impressed with Frank Martin’s club, which beat KU in Manhattan last season while KU won the meeting in Lawrence. KSU’s victory in the Little Apple snapped the Jayhawks’ 24-game winning streak in Manhattan.

“They’re a good team,” Self said. “Frank’s done a great job with them. They play so hard. They lost a lot off last year’s team, but certainly from an effort and intangibles standpoint ... they are getting 42.8 percent of their misses back, which is second in the country. They are an excellent offensive rebounding team. That is an area we have lacked in from time to time, defensive board play.”

Self has great respect for both Pullen and Clemente, a transfer from Miami and the second cousin of the late baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente.

“Certainly, Jacob is a good guard,” Self said. “(Clemente) will be the fastest guard we play this year. He’s as fast as anybody in the country. He’s a jet. We’re going to have to do a great job in keeping him in front of us. That’s a good backcourt, and Dominique Sutton, a young man we recruited, is a very, very athletic wing.”

“They can throw some different guys at you inside,” Self added. “He’s (Martin) done a really good job of getting them to play hard and guard.”

KU certainly needs to do a better job of guarding, rebounding, and scoring after its rough game against Michigan State on Saturday. The Jayhawks were down 37-18 at halftime, though rallied in the second half and challenged the Spartans in its final non-conference game.

“I didn't think we'd be great by conference play starting,” Self said. “I still think we can have a really good season, a really good year. I don't think our record's quite as good as I thought. I was hoping our record would be 12-3, but we're 11-4. We gave a couple of games away that we shouldn't have, but I don't think I can say that I expected us, with this young team, to come up (to East Lansing) and just control the game from start to finish. I didn't expect that. I was expecting that we would play well and hang around, and hopefully have a chance late. That didn't happen, but I think we're playing about where I thought we would play.”

KU has to turn it up a notch in its Big 12 opener, the official start of the second season. The Jayhawks have won 33 straight games in Allen Fieldhouse.

“Our first season, we got through it, 11-4,” Self said. “We played well at times, didn’t play well at times. I remember a few years ago (2005-06) we were 9-4 going into conference and ended up going 13-3 in league play.

“We got to turn it on at the right time. Now’s the time.”

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