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Blair Kerkhoff | The Kansas City Star | February 4, 2019

Kansas-Kansas State basketball: Tuesday's Big 12 game has an 'If not now, then when?' feel for Wildcats

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STILLWATER, Okla. — As Kansas State's postgame news conference was winding down after Saturday's victory at Oklahoma State, Wildcats men's basketball coach Bruce Weber was asked about the upcoming game against Kansas.

He looked at Dean Wade and Barry Brown and forwarded the question.

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"You guys haven't won against them, have you?" Weber said.

Brown shook his head no.

Ouch.

The Kansas winning streak in the Sunflower Showdown that continues on Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum stands at eight, beyond the college careers of each Kansas State player.

But these Wildcats don't wear this alone. Larry Brown's dominance started the reign that has reached a 78-11 KU advantage in the series over Brown's five years and the 15 each for Roy Williams and Bill Self. A 31-game streak is part of the history.

Before this lopsidedness, the Kansas lead in the series stood 118-82. Now the rivalry has entered the Division I record book. The Jayhawks' 196 victories over the Wildcats are the most in a series.

KU owns winning records against every team with which it has shared a conference, but such command against its closest geographic opponent has become a decades-long burn for Kansas State.

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Tuesday has that "if not now, then when?" feel for the Wildcats.

Kansas will enter the game with a higher national ranking, but K-State holds a higher place in the Big 12 standings, with one fewer conference loss.

Both come off confidence-boosting triumphs Saturday. Kansas played its best game yet without center injured Udoka Azubuike in a 16-point victory over Texas Tech. Kansas State settled for an 18-point victory at Oklahoma State after running up a 34-point lead with about six minutes remaining.

Those decisions followed troubling losses, Kansas at Texas and Kansas State at Texas A&M, leaving the Wildcats to stew for a full week.

Losing on the road isn't often a red-flag moment, but that one cost coach Bruce Weber some sleep. "I was so disappointed in myself for not having them better prepared," he said.

When KSU's expectations are this high — all starters returned from an Elite Eight team, and the Cats had the league's No. 2 preseason ranking — clunkers set off alarms, which happened after a December loss at Tulsa.

But Kansas State has played well enough most of the season to keep hope alive for another March run, and Saturday in Stillwater could not have been more encouraging.

Ball movement was on point and K-State passed up open looks to get better open looks. The Cowboys couldn't respond to the Wildcats' quickness and aggression on the defensive end.

Wade and Brown were the stars, as it should be. Wade made all nine of his shots, and afterward an assistant coach joked with him when the reserves entered the action that he had logged the best shooting game of his career.

The Cats' analytics were off the charts. Wade's floor percentage -- the percentage of possessions while a player is on the floor on which his team scores at least one point -- was 88.4 in the first half and 78.2 for the game. No other K-State player finished above 50 percent.

Brown knocked down five of the Wildcats' 16 three-pointers, the second most in a game in team history, and Oklahoma State couldn't keep up.

Saturday's effort is what Weber and the Wildcats envisioned for this season. Their head-shaking moments have occurred on the offensive end. K-State entered the weekend as the Big 12's lowest-scoring team, with shooting percentages in the league's bottom half.

Familiarity and experience -- Kansas State starts three seniors and two juniors -- figured to smooth out any rough patches, but the Wildcats have occasionally looked lost on offense, especially against zone defense. Learning moments is what Weber has called them ... and this team should have enough schooling by now.

"We can't go through any more learning," Weber said. "We have to keep moving forward. ... It's up to these guys, their leadership, determination and drive to finish their careers on a high note."

One of those high-note opportunities presents itself on Tuesday.

This article is written by Blair Kerkhoff from The Kansas City Star and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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