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January 17, 2009What's worse than starting Big 12 play 0-2? Well, starting 0-3, and that will be exactly the fate Kansas State will look to avoid when it hits the road for a showdown with an 11-4 Nebraska team. The Cornhuskers are not exactly the cream of the conference crop, but after the events of last week, the Wildcats, who have struggled mightily to find consistency as of late, won't be taking any game, especially one on the road, for granted.
Losing streaks are dangerous things, after all, and every player in the Wildcats' locker room knows once one gets started, it can easily spiral out of control. 'Must win' is a term too strong to describe any game at this time of year, but as far as postseason implications go, Saturday's contest comes close.
"We still have 14 games left," said K-State forward Jamar Samuels following his team's Tuesday night loss to Kansas. "Nobody has their head down in the locker room. We're still a team. We do need to come out and play harder."
So on goes the Wildcats' search for their first conference victory. Finding it within the confines of Nebraska's Devaney Sports Center, however, won't be an easy task. Saturday's venue is not one anyone would call a welcoming environment for visiting opponents, and K-State showed itself to be susceptible to hostile crowds in its loss to the Jayhawks.
"Sometimes it can be some of us just not being experienced, coming out and panicking," said sophomore guard Jacob Pullen.
At this point, panicking is the last thing K-State head coach Frank Martin is concerned with, however. In his second year on the job, Martin, who is not know for being critical of his players in the media, remains supremely confident.
According to Martin, it's only a matter of time before his team begins click. Unfortunately for him, however, a third straight loss would suck a considerable amount of sand out of the Wildcats' hourglass.
"It's unfortunate, but that's what you get with young kids," Martin said. "You have to walk the path. You're not born to run a 50-yard dash. You have to walk, fall down a couple times and knock yourself on the head a couple times. Then, you kind of run, but you fall down again. You just keep getting better from it."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: For K-State, this game may very well hinge on how it reacts to environment. The Wildcats were admittedly taken aback by the atmosphere in Lawrence just days ago, but if they have their sea legs under them for the full 40 minutes, Pullen and company should have every opportunity to walk out of Lincoln with a win.
Still, that doesn't mean K-State can expect to block out the fans in red and cruise to victory. The Huskers knocked of Missouri before losing to Iowa State on the road and, much like the Wildcats, can be more than a formidable opponent when playing well.
Nebraska ranks second nationally in scoring defense, allowing less than 56 points per game. Couple that with a K-State offense that has been erratic at times this season, and you're left with what could turn into a grind-it-out affair.
Though not stellar on offense by any stretch of the imagination, the bulk of the scoring the Huskers do manage to accomplish comes from the guard combination of Steve Harley and Ade Dagunduro. The senior due is averaging a combined 23.6 points per contest and each is a threat to score from multiple places on the floor.
Nebraska's four-guard lineup, which they will show early and often is tailor made to handle the Wildcats' press, but leaves them susceptible to scoring inside the paint. So while the Wildcats' backcourt must limit turnovers, K-State forwards Samuels, Dominique Sutton and Darren Kent will also play a large role in the outcome of tonight's game.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Before fouling out midway through the second half, K-State forward Luis Colon was on his way to a big day in his team's loss to Kansas. The 6-foot-10 forward was the Wildcats' most effective defensive weapon against the Jayhawks and wasn't too shabby on the offense end either, scoring 12 points to go along with six rebounds.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE CORNHUSKERS: The Huskers struggled across the board against Iowa State, but one of the few offensive bright spots was Dagunduro. The senior guard led his team's scoring with 13 points and shot 4 of 8 from the floor against the Cyclones.