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March 6, 2009

Cats ready to close regular season

Kansas State remains in the running to capture the fourth and final bye for the Big 12 Tournament next week. To do it, the Wildcats must take care of Colorado and rely on some good fortune across the rest of the league Saturday. The Buffaloes enter Senior Day in Manhattan with a Big 12-record 28 straight league road losses and Jacob Pullen plans to be anything but hospitable in the Wildcats' home finale.

"(I feel) sorry for them," Pullen said. "They've got to come to Manhattan now. Hopefully we can keep that streak going."

It will mark the final home game for forward Darren Kent, who has the opportunity to leave Bramlage Coliseum with 80 wins during his career, the most by any player since Steve Henson had 82 between 1986 and 1990.

"It's really important for us," Pullen said. "It's important to get this win for DK in his last game in Manhattan."

The 6-foot-11, 230-pound Kent, a native of Apple Valley, Minn., has been the team's most improved player this season in averaging 9.3 points and 5.6 rebounds. Kent, who has started 29 times this season and has appeared in 92 career games, entered his final season averaging 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per outing.

As a senior, he has reached double figures in 15 contests to go along with a team-leading four double-doubles.

"Just the beginning of the game is going to be different with the ceremony, but my energy isn't going to change when the game starts," Kent said. "Once the game starts, it's back to business."

The Wildcats, who seek a seventh straight win in the series, have plenty at stake.

K-State, now projected by many as a top seed in the National Invitational Tournament, squandered an earlier chance to clinch its league's tournament No. 4 seed with a 77-71 loss at Oklahoma State on Tuesday. A win against Colorado, coupled by a Kansas victory over Texas in Lawrence and an Oklahoma win over Oklahoma State in Norman, would earn the Wildcats a bye for a third consecutive season -- a first for the program since formation of the Big 12.

"The only thing we can control is that Colorado game and we want to play our best game against Colorado," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "(The seeding) was important to us when we had control of it. We don't have control of that anymore."

Colorado at K-State
Tip: 12:47 p.m. CST
Where: Bramlage Coliseum (12,528), Manhattan, Kan.
Head Coaches: Frank Martin 2nd yr (41-22 overall); Jeff Bzdelik 2nd year (21-40) and 6th overall (96-86)
Radio: K-State Sports Network; Powercat Passport Internet Audio; Yahoo! Internet Radio
Wyatt Thompson, play-by-play; Stan Weber, analyst
TV: Big 12 Network/ESPN Full Court/ESPN360.com
Webcast: Powercat Passport

K-State has earned 20 wins in three straight seasons for the first time in 27 years and against Colorado looks to post its ninth league victory for a third straight season -- something the program hasn't accomplished in 33 years.

Meanwhile, Colorado owns several unwanted trends under second-year coach Jeff Bzdelik. The Buffaloes have lost 10 straight games, including a 77-75 loss in overtime to K-State on Jan. 24, for the first time since 1985-86. Their most recent setback -- a 72-66 loss at home to Texas A&M -- gave them 20 losses for the third straight season, a first in the program's 108-year history.

"It's been really hard," said Bzdelik, whose team has dropped 14 of 15 league games. "I know we're on the right track and I know this is how we have to do it. We aren't going to compromise what this school stands for. We just have to stay the course, but it's tough. I want to win so bad and the players do, too."

Still, no Colorado player has ever won in a Big 12 opponent's arena. The Buffaloes, winless in all nine true road contests this season, lost by five points on three occasions at Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska. They have suffered 11 defeats by single digits, including nine against league foes.

"People look at their record and assume that they're not any good," Martin said. "They've lost nine games by less than 10 points in league play. That means they've been in the mix in a lot of their league games. For the most part, they've done a heck of a job."

That Colorado led Texas A&M 32-24 -- its first halftime lead against a Big 12 team this season -- before fizzling in the final five minutes disappointed Bzdelik.

"I challenge them," he said. "I think they were feeling sorry for themselves a little bit and you can't do that. No one will feel sorry for you."

Asked if he has squeezed everything out of his squad, Martin replied, "I hope not. I'd like to play for another three or four weeks.

"I always look for improvement. As long as there are games on the schedule, there's a way to get better at something. We've got plenty of basketball left in us."

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: How's this for starters? Colorado is 3-17 when trailing at the half and 4-18 when out-rebounded by its opponent. Although the Buffaloes have been close in numerous games, their latest collapse against the Aggies best summarizes a season marred in re-occurring frustration.

Figure this: Colorado led 54-46 with 5 minutes, 53 seconds remaining. Just 42 seconds later, its lead evaporated to a single point. It was part of a game-ending 26-12 scoring run by the Aggies, who led the in the final 4:29.

"They play good games," Pullen said. "They haven't gotten blown out."

Could that change Saturday? Look for K-State to run and run. Given the Buffaloes' lack of momentum and serious case of here-we-go-again tendencies, K-State, 15-3 at home and riding a six-game winning streak in Bramlage, could deflate the visitors by halftime with an inspired effort in front of a rabid fan base.

There's plenty of motivation to keep a heavy foot on the gas, as the Wildcats know they have one final chance to levy an exclamation point after failing in road contests twice during the last 10 days.

Pullen scored five of his team-high 17 points in overtime as K-State escaped Colorado more than a month ago. The Wildcats outmatched the Buffaloes, who harbor 10 freshmen and sophomores on their roster, yet could barely close the deal. Still, it marked the first of six straight wins for the Wildcats, who matured into a bunch determined to save their season.

Has Pullen seen Colorado change since that matchup?

"I haven't," he said.

Junior guard Dwight Thorne II scored a career-high 30 points in the first meeting between the teams.

Statistically, the Wildcats maintain a sizable edge in averaging 13.1 more points and 12.0 more rebounds than the Buffaloes.

"They've got a lot of good shooters on the floor and those kids have learned to run that offense a lot better than they knew earlier in the year," Martin said. "Because of that, they're playing a lot more efficient."

Efficient, but rarely efficient enough. And never on the road.

WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Denis Clemente continues to lead the way. Clemente averaged 21.6 points and 4.3 assists in the last three games with a game-high 33 points at Missouri. Most recently he led the Wildcats with 18 points despite a 5-for-15 shooting performance at Oklahoma State. Clemente isn't afraid to share, either, as he has posted five assists in each of his last two outings.

WHO'S HOT FOR THE BUFFALOES: Sophomore Cory Higgins comes off a 27-point effort against the Aggies after he posted 20 points against Baylor. He made 15 of 29 (51.7 percent) shot attempts in those games. Overall, Higgins ranks fifth in the Big 12 in averaging 17.6 points while shooting 49.1 percent from the floor, which ranks fourth in the league. Higgins also averages 1.9 steals per contest, second in the league.


PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
Here are the starting lineups for Saturday's contest between K-State and Colorado.
Kansas State (20-10, 8-7)Colorado (9-20, 1-14)
21-Denis Clemente (6-1, 175, JR), 15.3 ppg/2.4 rpg1-Nate Tomlinson (6-2, 180, FR), 7.3 ppg/2.5 rpg
0-Jacob Pullen (6-0, 200, SO), 13.5 ppg/2.6 rpg12-Dwight Thorne II (6-3, 180, JR), 11.9 ppg/3.2 rpg
23-Dominique Sutton (6-5, 210, SO), 7.7 ppg/5.2 rpg11-Cory Higgins (6-5, 175, SO), 17.6 ppg/5.6 rpg
42-Darren Kent (6-11, 230, SR), 9.2 ppg/5.6 rpg31-Jermyl Jackson-Wilson (6-6, 220, SR), 5.3 ppg/3.8 rpg
15-Luis Colon (6-10, 265, JR), 4.8 ppg/5.0 rpg33-Austin Dufault (6-8, 210, FR), 8.5 ppg/3.8 rpg



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