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February 20, 2009The ESPN segment is called "Life on the Bubble." And to the chagrin of Kansas State forward Jamar Samuels, the Wildcats weren't mentioned in it earlier this week. They were sent to an unwanted column along with teams like Michigan and Georgetown, which commentators dubbed "The Last Four Out." That sends a simple message as K-State visits Iowa State for a 5 p.m. tip-off at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday.
K-State must win out to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament.
"SportsCenter showed we were in the first four teams out," Samuels said. "I was looking at that and it's just crazy how they can say that. We took it out on North Carolina Central. We really need to win these games out. We'll try our hardest."
Fresh off a 95-46 pasting of N.C. Central on Tuesday, the Wildcats get back to their Big 12 grind in need of a final five-game push entering the league tournament in Oklahoma City on March 11.
They start with a chance to earn a series-record seventh straight win against Iowa State and their third sweep of the Cyclones in as many years. The Wildcats, who beat Iowa State 65-50 on Feb. 3, have won in their last two trips to Ames and seek their fourth consecutive road conference win this season -- something the program hasn't accomplished since 1979-80.
Iowa State sits at 2-9 in the Big 12 and has lost eight of its last nine, dropping those eight contests by an average of 15.8 points. The Cyclones are 2-3 against Big 12 teams at home, including a 70-42 win over Colorado on Feb. 11 in their last victory.
K-State coach Frank Martin continues to abide by his usual approach, taking one game at a time. That means no mention of the trip to No. 10 Missouri on Wednesday. No mention of the other three games after that. No mention of the Big 12 Tournament. Not yet.
"I talk to the guys about the importance of beating Iowa State, the next game on the schedule," Martin said. "We start worrying about what's going to take place in March, we're going to forget what's going to take place Saturday. Whatever game we play the following week has very little meaning if you don't win the next game on the schedule. You take the games on the schedule one at a time. You do that then you can worry about the postseason when it gets here."
Iowa State returns home following a 72-55 loss at No. 15 Kansas on Wednesday in which the Jayhawks raced off to a 24-7 lead and never looked back. Kansas finished with 50-percent shooting from the floor while Iowa State struggled at 32.1 percent. It dropped the Cyclones to 0-12 when they have been out-shot by an opponent.
"I thought our guys competed and you really have to compete when you start the game as poorly as we did," said Iowa State coach Greg McDermott, who is 42-47 in his third season. "It's not like (Kansas) forced us into a bunch of turnovers, we just missed shots."
K-State understands McDermott's frustration. The Wildcats managed just 39.3 percent in the second half and 42.4 percent overall in an 85-74 loss to Kansas in their last Big 12 matchup Feb. 14. No doubt, K-State would rather bring its season-high 60.3-percent shooting against N.C. Central into Hilton Coliseum, which averages a crowd of 12,071 this season to sustain its reputation as one of the better venues in the league.
Balanced scoring would be nice, too. The Wildcats had plenty of it when they faced the Cyclones in Manhattan. Denis Clemente led with 15 points while Dominique Sutton added 13 points and 10 rebounds. Two others reached double figures in scoring as well.
Six players reached double figures against N.C. Central. And that was without Clemente and senior forward Darren Kent. Clemente, the Wildcats' leading scorer at 14.8 points per contest, served a one-game suspension following his antics against Kansas. Kent took a blow to the head early against N.C. Central and didn't return to the bench in the second half.
Both players are expected to start Saturday.
K-State is 11-1 when Clemente and backcourt teammate Jacob Pullen both reach double figures this season.
But another key to the Wildcats' success comes from their defensive rebounding and transition game. Martin knows the Wildcats must do better than they did in holding a 29-27 rebounding edge against Kansas, which created scores of easy baskets off its defense.
"Two things let us down against Kansas, our defensive transition and our defensive rebounding," Martin said. "We take care of those two things, we win the game. We were average at best on both, so we didn't win. Those are two things that are very important to what we do."
K-State out-rebounded Iowa State 49-32 in the teams' first meeting. Iowa State's 50 points were the fewest K-State allowed a Big 12 opponent this season.
"(N.C. Central) was a confidence booster," Samuels said. "We're ready for Iowa State. We're going to be ready."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Look for Iowa State to try and take advantage of the worst 3-point percentage defense in the Big 12 while the Clemente-Pullen tandem, one of the most potent and arguably the fastest in the league, hopes to run the Cyclones out of their own gym.
Iowa State went 10-for-26 from behind the arc against Kansas for its seventh double-digit 3-pointer effort this season. The Cyclones' 7.5 3-pointers per game ranks third in the league behind 196 treys, just seven shy of the all-time school record of 203 in 2006-07.
K-State has allowed 35.5 percent shooting on 3-pointers, last in the Big 12. It has given up 155 3-pointers, sixth in the league.
Jamie Vanderbeken continued his hot shooting against the Jayhawks. He came off the bench for a career-high 15 points, including a career-high five 3-pointers. The 6-foot-11, 245-pound Vanderbeken went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers and has made 16 of 28 in the last eight games. Vanderbeken topped his career-high 14 points against K-State in the first meeting, where he drained 3 of 4 from long range.
Kansas' trio of guards combined for 31 points on 12-for-24 shooting from the floor against Iowa State on Wednesday. Sherron Collins made 4 of 6 3-pointers to lead the trio, which finished with seven 3-pointers.
Well, Clemente and Pullen could do the work of three guards. They have at times during the season, combining for 30 points 11 times with three games of more than 45 points. And that's without Fred Brown, who has 51 3-pointers and leads the league in hitting 48.8 percent of his 3-pointers in Big 12 games.
K-State had success earlier against Craig Brackins, a sophomore who's been otherwise hot for the Cyclones. The 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward ranks second in the league in averaging 19.2 points to go along with 9.2 rebounds and comes off a double-double at Kansas.
The Wildcats held Brackins to 14 points on 6-of-20 shooting from the floor.
Containing the dangerous Brackins again could prove key for the Wildcats.
K-State averages almost 13 more points than Iowa State per game -- 77.5 to 64.8 -- and is tied with Kansas for tops in the league in averaging 7.2 more rebounds than its opponent. Iowa State averages 34.0 rebounds, or 5.3 fewer than the Wildcats.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Dominique Sutton posted double figures for the third time in five games against N.C. Central with a team-high 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go along with a career high-tying 10 rebounds. Sutton found his spark against Iowa State the first time around, as his 13-point, 10-rebound effort marked his first double-double of the Big 12 season. Sutton averages 8.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in nearly 23 minutes per game this season, but continues to get better.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE CYCLONES: Craig Brackins has reached 20 points in his last three outings, including a 20-point, 11-rebound effort at Kansas for his ninth 20-10 performance of the season. Brackins, who has averaged 24.3 points in the last three games, ranks second in the Big 12 in averaging 19.2 points overall and has recorded 20 points in seven of 11 league contests.