Kitten Fury

It's KU's biggest game of the year on Senior Night as the Jayhawks host arch-rival Kansas State Wednesday at 7 p.m. (CT) in Allen Fieldhouse.

With Kansas (27-2, 13-1 Big 12) ranked No. 2 and K-State (24-4, 11-3) at No. 5, this will mark the first time since 1958 when the two teams met with both ranked in the top five. This is actually KSU's first Top Five ranking in nearly 50 years.

The game will also be the biggest Sunflower Showdown since KU and K-State battled in Pontiac, Mich., in 1988 in the Elite Eight.

Of course, KU won that contest and advanced to the Final Four and beat Oklahoma in the national championship game. While the stakes aren't as huge during this 2010 Sunflower Showdown, make no mistake, a lot is on the line Wednesday night.

A KU victory would clinch a Big 12 championship outright, while a K-State victory would keep the Wildcats in the running to tie the Jayhawks for the conference crown with just one league game remaining. Also, a KSU win at hostile Allen Fieldhouse would give the ‘Cats serious contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

And if the teams' last meeting is any indication— KU won, 81-79 in OT at Manhattan on Jan. 30 — this game could be another classic.

Kansas coach Bill Self wants to send senior guard Sherron Collins out in style in his farewell game in the Phog. To do that, the Jayhawks must play one of their best games all season and beat the Wildcats for the 40th time in the last 42 meetings.

"It's a big one," Self said. "We play a top five team, so you've got two top five teams, which will be a great promotional deal. I think it will add to the interest and the intrigue of the game. I think Senior Night definitely adds an element to it. But I don't want this to be so much about Sherron or about Senior Night, and he wouldn't either that we forget about what we need to do, and that is to beat a top five team and to win the league outright in game 15 of our league race.

"We want it all to be just perfect, but the thing that gives it a chance to be perfect is not taking our eye off the prize. And that's playing well against K-State."

KSU is one of the hottest teams in the country, winning seven straight games since falling to KU in Manhattan. The Wildcats, who've also won six consecutive road games, are coming off a hard-fought 63-53 home victory over Missouri on Saturday. Despite shooting just 19 percent from the field the first half, K-State tied MU at halftime at 23. Then the ‘Cats broke the game open early in the second half with a 13-4 run. K-State held Missouri to 31.7 percent shooting and 21.7 percent (4-18) from three-point range.

Kansas State head coach Frank Martin praised his team's resiliency after the victory, which gave the Wildcats their most wins overall and in conference play for a season since 1987-88.

"It is the difference between our team now and our team at the beginning of this season, last year and the year before," Martin said. "We are going to play hard, that is not an option for our team. What affected us (in the past) was when we have nights like tonight, where we miss shots, it affected our spirit and then we would have the breakdowns and for the most part, we did not do that today. We were able to stay the course and then in the second half, we made some shots and got a little separation, but our defense never really suffered."

Junior guard Jacob Pullen leads the K-State attack with 18.5 points per game. Senior guard Denis Clemente (15.8 ppg), sophomore reserve forward Jamar Samuels (11.9 ppg), and junior forward Curtis Kelly (11.4 ppg, team-high 6.5 rpg) also average in double figures. Junior forward Dominique Sutton is another key player who's started all 28 games and is averaging 7.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.

Self is not surprised how K-State's taken off since the Wildcats' loss to KU on Jan. 30

"When we won in Manhattan, I told our staff they will not lose again," Self said. "And that's exactly what's played out. They've played well. I didn't see any team on their schedule they wouldn't beat."

Self lauded KSU for "every night playing with a certain amount of passion. (They're) very, very aggressive and relentless in intangible areas."

"I think they're really good at making other teams play poorly when they're not at their best," Self said, "better than anybody in our league."

Despite losing at Oklahoma State, 85-77, on Saturday, Self said KU is also a better team since that meeting in Manhattan.

"So it's probably two better basketball teams playing today than it was then, in large part, just because we're a little bit more battle tested," Self said.

Self, though, wants a better effort from his team than the game in Stillwater. He said OSU was "quicker, more explosive, more tuned in, (and) tougher."

"(They) controlled the game from every aspect," Self added. "We played soft the whole game."

The Cowboys dominated KU on the boards, 36 to 25, while shooting a scorching 60.4 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from three (10-19). The Jayhawks will need a better defensive and rebounding showing Wednesday night. KSU boasts the best offensive rebounding team in the league at 15.1 per game.

"They go after every ball," Self said. "They are relentless. We can talk about technique, but forget that. Go get your man and go get the ball. That's the bottom line, and they are relentless at doing so. They play a lot of big guys and Sutton is as good an athlete as anyone in our league at the three spot."

The Jayhawks certainly have great respect for KSU. Self even said Martin should be National Coach of the Year.

"After the three losses they had (in Big 12 play to Missouri, Oklahoma State and KU), they have been one of the best teams in the country," Kansas sophomore forward Marcus Morris said. "They are going to come in and they are going to give us their best shot. They want part of the Big 12 and they are going to play like that want part of it. We are going to play like we want it.

"We need to start stopping teams. Going into practice (Monday) and the next couple of days and going and playing (Kansas State and) Missouri (on Saturday at Columbia), I feel like we're going to be a new team and a whole different team."

It's a team that must play tough on Senior Night to beat K-State, send Collins off with a bang, and win the Big 12 title outright.

Kansas sophomore forward Markieff Morris is ready for a battle. He vividly recalls the last meeting when the Wildcats pushed the Jayhawks in the backs and held them at times. KU junior center Cole Aldrich also chipped his front tooth against the physical Wildcats during that game.

It's KU vs. K-State. Only the strong will survive.

"Playing against K-State is like preparing for war because their guys go so hard and I know we'll go hard," Morris said. "It's going to be a very intense game.

"(They're the) most physical team that I ever played against since I've been at college. Against Michigan State (last March in the Sweet 16), they were physical but not more physical than K-State."

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