Big 12 Sports Articles

Eight-Straight Big 12 Wins Later, Kansas State Takes Control of Conference

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at Baylor

WACO, Texas — The last time the Kansas State Wildcats won a share of the Big 12 regular-season title was 2013, and the Wildcats had to share that with the Kansas Jayhawks.

The last time the Kansas State Wildcats won a league conference tournament was 1980.

The last time the Kansas State Wildcats won both the regular-season league title and the conference tournament title in the same season was 1977.

Get ready to hear a lot of that the next few weeks. The Kansas State Wildcats are pointed toward what could be a special Big 12 season.

Saturday’s 70-63 win over the Baylor Bears (15-8, 6-4) at the Ferrell Center was a game for first place in the mind of Kansas State (18-5, 8-2) guard Kamau Stokes. It was a game for first place in the Big 12 to all of us, because had the Wildcats lost the game they would have fallen back into a first-place tie with the Bears.

But Kansas State won. And that, coupled with Iowa State’s surprising loss to TCU in Ames, Iowa, a few hours earlier, the Wildcats walked out of Waco with a two-game pad at the top of the standings with eight games left to play.

Let’s stop talking about Kansas’ streak of 14 straight regular-season Big 12 titles being in jeopardy. The story now should be about how special Kansas State’s season has become.

Incredibly, these Wildcats lost their first two games of the season. Remember that? The Wildcats were without Dean Wade and Stokes was banged up. Now the Wildcats have won eight straight games, their best winning streak in Big 12 history. You have to go back to 1974 to find a longer one in league action, 11, when Kansas State was in the Big 8.

Bruce Weber alluded to that slow start during Saturday’s press conference. The moving parts during that slow start in December and January were kind of astounding and date back to last April’s Elite Eight run.

Well great teams overcome those sorts of things, and the Wildcats are a great team. Going into this season I believed that the Wildcats were the team best equipped to challenge the Kansas Jayhawks for the league’s regular-season title. They had an experienced starting five, a talented sixth man in Cartier Diarra and just needed to develop some depth. I’m not sure the Wildcats have developed the functional depth I had hoped they would. But these six guys? No one in the Big 12 has outplayed them in more than a month.

That experience came in handy Saturday night. The Wildcats spent a good portion of the game down to the Bears, who were coming off a loss to Texas and were hoping to get off the deck. With 9:50 left in the game the Wildcats were down 48-41.

The Wildcats outscored the Bears 29-16 the rest of the way, thanks in part of some huge threes from Diarra (10 points), more huge buckets by Barry Brown Jr. (13 points) and a tremendous overall effort from Stokes (20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists).

“We weren’t down by a whole lot,” Stokes said. “We had to make plays, like (Diarra) said. We had to be the tougher team and make the tougher plays.”

Baylor, despite losing guards Makai Mason and King McClure before the game, were plucky and just weren’t going to give in. The fill-ins played tremendous. Baylor head coach Scott Drew went big by putting Freddie Gillespie in the lineup and he scored 13 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. Devonte Bandoo scored 15 points in his first Big 12 start. Jared Butler added 13 points.

But Gillespie, Bandoo and Drew all admitted the Bears lost some gas down the stretch in this one, and it was for a logical reason. The injury bug has hit the Bears with a vengeance. The Bears basically had a starting lineup in street clothes on Saturday.

Drew wasn’t making excuses. Those are just the facts. And the Bears nearly overcame those facts to win on Saturday.

But Kansas State, well, they did what they had to do on the road on Saturday. In the Big 12 the  hope is that you hold serve at home and steal some on the road. Well, if you look at the Big 12 standings the Wildcats have matching 4-1 records at home and on the road. And they will get a chance to avenge their only home loss on Monday against Texas in Austin.

The race isn’t over yet, of course. Kansas State must again play Iowa State, Kansas and Baylor, and all three are in the thick of this Big 12 race. The Wildcats can’t overlook Texas, West Virginia or Oklahoma State, either. The Longhorns and the Mountaineers have beaten Kansas after all.

Before the game Saturday Weber said the final thing he told his players before they headed to the course was this:

“Finish possessions, finish the game.”

Now the Wildcats can add one more sentence to that motto:

‘Finish the race.’

And the race is on.

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