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January 21, 2009The start to conference play has been a rocky one for Coach Frank Martin and his Kansas State Wildcats. There's no denying that. K-State will look to avoid going 0-4 in Big 12 play for the first time since 1997 when it plays host to Baylor on Wednesday. Yet still, the players inside the K-State locker room say they're not in panic mode just yet.
Are the Wildcats on the verge of panicking? Not quite yet, but the recent events certainly have this team's full attention.
Cue the obligatory team meeting.
Just days after K-State's Saturday loss to Nebraska, a film session shifted into a soul-searching gathering, as the Wildcats, admittedly disturbed by the slow start to the Big 12 season, explored the reason for the rocky start behind closed doors.
"We know we hit a rough patch," said forward Darren Kent, the squad's lone senior. "All the guys, we had a nice meeting to go over all the things we thought we were doing wrong. After that, we came out with a fresh mind. We forgot about those (losses) right then."
As for the effects the meeting had on the Wildcats' practice demeanor, at least according to those involved, things seem to be turning around. Of course, there's no telling what kind of result K-State fans can expect to see on the court, but according to more than one player, at least in the practice gym, there has been a noticeable difference in attitude.
"We just had a good week of practice. Before the Nebraska game, I think we were all down after starting 0-2," said sophomore guard Jacob Pullen. "It didn't really sink in until we started playing. We just didn't focus well that game.
"A lot of us became hesitant to do things, but now we're getting back to how we play. I think these last two days of practice have been great."
The hesitancy Pullen speaks of is, at least according to his diagnosis, the very reason K-State has struggled to limit turnovers in recent games.
The Wildcats coughed the ball up 17 times in the first half of their 73-51 loss to the Cornhuskers, and it doesn't take Tex Winter to understand how that type of erratic offense is counterproductive to success.
But just how are turnovers tied to hesitancy? According to Pullen, it's actually pretty simple. ? Well, sort of.
"It's because you're so worried about doing something, that you don't do what you know how to do," Pullen said. "Instead, you're thinking about what you should do. We got into that mode, and it led to a lot of turnovers against Nebraska."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: For K-State, it's obvious that priority No. 1 against Baylor will be limiting turnovers, as the Wildcats have rarely looked in total control at the offensive end as of late. It's a mission that won't exactly be daunting, as the Bears, not know for their defense, rank 133 nationally in turnover margin, but scoring with 23rd-ranked Baylor is another task entirely. The Bears are averaging more than 83 points per contest this season and are shooting 49.2 percent from the floor.
As a team, K-State likes to keep the tempo knob turned to max, and Wednesday's game will provide it with ample opportunity to play its game.
"We want to get up and down with them, but we also want to pressure them," Pullen said. "They don't really go up and down all the time. They only go up and down when they want to. We want them to play our style of basketball. We don't want them to be comfortable."
It's clear that Martin's Wildcats have no plans to slow the pace at which they play, and their ability to find a way to control themselves and the ball within the pace of the game could ultimately be the difference between 1-3 and 0-4.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Wildcat point guard Denis Clemente led K-State in scoring with 14 points in the loss to Nebraska, but classifying him as "hot" would be a bit of an overstatement, as junior was just 5 for 14 from the floor.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE BEARS: Curtis Jerrells racked up 31 points in Baylor's win over Oklahoma State on Saturday, and six Bears finished the contest in double figures, including forward Kevin Rogers, who scored 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting.