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February 27, 2009Remember Nebraska, the team that hung a 22-point loss on Kansas State's NCAA Tournament resume more than a month ago? Frank Martin certainly does, and the second-year head coach has had plenty of time to mull over the beat down his team took in Lincoln on Jan. 17. He contends the reasons for the massacre were many, but what he says could be the biggest of them will sound awfully familiar.
This Wildcat team, along with everyone who has followed it this season, have been exposed to every possible meaning of the simple word. It has been cited as the reason for big wins, bad losses and streaks of both varieties. Sure, the word was worn out weeks ago, but in this situation, it helps to understand the context.
"We just kind of fell apart (against the Huskers)," Martin said. "They made a couple shots, and we weren't good enough at the time to buckle in and deal with their run."
Thinking back to the game in Lincoln, Martin, not one to blame a loss on a hostile environment, speaks of his young team playing on road as if it has had no success in an opponent's gym, something that couldn't be farther from the truth. But that, as anyone in the K-State locker room will point out in a flash, was a much different time for these Wildcats.
"(At home), when the snowball is going in the opposite direction, your kids tend to be a little more relaxed," Martin said. "The energy of the crowd reminds them that this is their home court and that they can't let this happen. On the road, sometimes it gets away from you. The energy of the crowd affects you. I think what happened in Nebraska was our inexperience. It was our inability to handle that at that stage of the season."
What a difference a single month and a change of venue can make. For a team stocked with players who are now closer to being juniors than freshman, finding success at home against a Nebraska team with a sub-.500 conference record, is now simply expected.
The excuses, valid as they may have been at one time, end here. Saturday's contest is not just a must win, it's a should-and-better win. Any hope the Wildcats have at qualifying for the NCAA depends on its ability to do so, after all.
"We have to win all of our (three reaming) games and go to the Big 12 tournament and do some more," K-State's Denis Clemente, the team's leading scorer, said. "It's the only way we can try to go to the NCAA Tournament. We'll see what happens."
Then again, it's not as if motivation for this game was in short supply to begin with.
"I'd rather not look back," Jacob Pullen, who was held to just six points in K-State's first game against the Huskers. "We need to look forward to playing this game. There is nothing we can do about that now. They beat us by a lot. We're looking forward to playing them (in Manhattan)."
WHAT TO EXPECT: As was the case in the teams' first meeting, Saturday's contest between the Huskers and Wildcats will be a case of two contrasting styles. Nebraska's methodical, grind-it-out philosophy gave K-State fits in the first game, causing the Wildcats to turn the ball over 17 times in the first 20 minutes.
A repeat performance of that is simply not an option, not now.
"The (first) game was going at half-court pace," Martin said. "They were more disciplined than we were. If you dig a deep hole against Nebraska, it's hard to dig out of that hole because they make you make jump shots."
Establishing the tempo in the contest's early going will be paramount for each team in Saturday's contest. The Cornhuskers rank ninth nationally in scoring defense and thrive when they able to force their opponents to use the majority of the shot clock, a fate the Wildcats know they will need to avoid.
If Martin's team is successful in making Saturday's meeting an up-and-down type game, K-State should be able to score enough points to defeat an offensively challenged Nebraska team in Manhattan, but doing so, as the Wildcats well know, is not an easy task.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Clemente was the only K-State player to score in double figures in the Wildcats' loss to Missouri on Wednesday night, pouring in a game-high 33 points on 12-for-19 shooting.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE CORNHUSKERS: Nebraska's Ade Dagunduro scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds in the Huskers' loss to Texas A&M on Tuesday, marking the fifth consecutive game the senior has scored in double figures.