Marcus Foster made his return for the Wildcats on Saturday evening and immediately made his impact felt off the bench. For Lon Kruger and the Oklahoma Sooners, it was deja vu going back to January 10th when Foster hit a 3-pointer with seconds to go to secure a overtime victory for the Wildcats in Norman.
In his first appearance for the Wildcats since serving his three game suspension, Marcus Foster showed the talent and potential that made him the only sophomore to earn preseason All-Big 12 first team honors.
Down the stretch of yet another close Wildcat victory there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Foster would be player that Coach Weber wanted to take the shot, and yet he still got enough separation to nail the game clinching three. With the shot, Foster and the Wildcats snapped a five game skid. But, more importantly the ‘Cats set themselves up to make a run into top six in the conference and get that all-important first round bye in the Big 12 tournament. K-State is currently in 7th place, at 6-7 in Big 12 play, a half game back of the 6 seed, with five games to play.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, have the Wildcats fixed enough of their problems to be considered a threat once they do reach the conference tournament?
The Wildcats once again failed to reach the 60 point mark, and shot a dreadful 26.5% from the field (13-of-49), the tenth lowest mark in program history, while the thirteen made baskets is the fifth lowest in school history. So clearly the shooting woes have not been cleaned up. Once again, the offense looked stagnant and motionless. There were too many forced shots at the end of the shot clock, including one of Justin Edwards two three-point baskets in the second half that did not leave his hand before the shot clock expired.
One area that did show some improvement was free throws. For just the eighth time this season the Wildcats finished over 75% from the charity stripe, in large part to senior Nino Williams who was 9-of-11. The Wildcats connected on 28 of their 36 free throw attempts.
The Wildcats also out-rebounded the Sooners 36 to 27, grabbing 14 offensive boards that resulted in 15 second chance points. Williams led all players, grabbing a season high 8 boards.
So all in all, the Wildcats definitely took a step in the right direction this weekend. But the road ahead is not going to be easy for KSU if they hope to reach the NCAA Tournament. This Wednesday the Wildcats head to Ft. Worth to take on the Horned Frogs in a must-win game, before facing off with Baylor on Saturday at the Ferrell Center.
If the Wildcats can play tough defense and get into a shooting rhythm, they could steal a couple road wins against two teams that they have already defeated this year. This would put them at 8-7 in the conference, and set themselves up nicely for their showdown with their rival Jayhawks next Monday. The next eight days will make or break this Wildcat season. It will be interesting to see if Saturday’s win over OU helps this team find their groove, or if it was just a rare bright spot in a mediocre and disappointing season.