February 6, 2008

Wildcats hope to get back on track

From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, the last seven days of Kansas State basketball has been a bumpy ride. A historic win over then-No. 2 Kansas was made to seem like ancient history just days later by a loss to short-handed Missouri. How the Wildcats bounce back from such an emotional stretch could determine the fate of their entire season. The process of rebounding from the drama that was last week starts Wednesday night in Manhattan, where K-State, led by freshman Michael Beasley, is slated to take on Nebraska.

K-State's 5-1 conference record is good enough to keep them at the top of the Big 12 standings for the time being, but from here on out every loss stings a little more. Just 10 games remain on the Wildcats' schedule, and a home win over the Huskers would be a nice first blow in Kansas State's fight to hang on and capture the school's first ever regular-season Big 12 Championship.

Standing between coach Frank Martin's Wildcats and a sixth conference win, is Nebraska forward Aleks Maric, who made K-State look non-existent on the defensive end in a meeting last season, erupting for 41 points in a Cornhuskers win. K-State can ill afford an encore performance from the 6-foot-11 Maric Saturday, so there is little question as to where K-State's pre-game focus has been placed.

"They've got a big monster inside," said Beasley of Maric and the Huskers. "That's what I know about Nebraska. We're trying to figure out a way to stop him."

As the Wildcats learned last season, stopping the Australian-born center is no easy task. He has cracked the 20-point barrier on five occasions this year, including a 30-point performance back in November, and Maric is averaging 8.7 rebounds to go along with his 15.4 points per game this season.

The giant-sized responsibility of slowing down the 275-pound center will likely fall on Beasley and fellow forward Bill Walker. I\it's going to require an increased effort for Martin to keep his brightest stars out of foul trouble as they attempt to handle the challenge.

"They run all their offense through Maric," said K-State guard Blake Young of Wednesday's opponent. "We really need to keep bothering him. If we can get him tired, we can do what we've done to every other team."

The Cornhuskers' backcourt, led by junior college transfer Steve Harley, has also settled into a grove as of late. Harley has averaged a team-best 13.5 points per game over the past four games, after accumulating an average of 6.1 in the Nebraska's first 14 contests.

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