After disassembling the No. 15 Texas Longhorns over the weekend, the K-State Wildcats (16-7, 6-4 Big 12) welcome the No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks (18-5, 9-1 Big 12) to Bramlage Coliseum Monday at 8 p.m.
K-State continues to have serious difficulties staying even with Kansas on the hardwood. The two team’s most recent matchup was at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence on Jan. 11, when the Jayhawks made basketball look easy in a 26-point victory. The last home-court advantage for the Wildcats was on Jan. 22, 2013 and while it was a closer fight, they still lost by four points to their in-state rival.
After his 34-point explosion against Texas over the weekend, freshman guard Marcus Foster said he will be looking to rectify himself after being shut down by Kansas head coach Bill Self’s squad in the team’s last meeting, where he was held to seven points on three-of-twelve shooting.
“In Lawrence, we did not play how we needed to play,” Foster said. “We have to get back to how we play and we played today. We actually guarded them and we knocked down shots. We just need to let things happen.”
The Kansas defense keyed in on the guard in Lawrence, ensuring he would not harm them from beyond the arc. K-State will need to either find a way to give Foster open looks or to get the ball to someone else.
Kansas relied on their freshman core for the win in Allen Fieldhouse, where freshman guards Andrew Wiggins finished with 22 points and Wayne Selden, Jr. finished with 20. Their most important player may be freshman center Joel Embiid, who finished just shy of a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds against the Wildcats and has shown the ability to dominate the paint.
With the emergence of their freshman class, the Jayhawks have a plethora of players who can step up and take over a game; Wiggins, Embiid, Selden, and sophomore forward Perry Ellis all average double-digit scoring per game, and junior guard Naadir Tharpe is not far off with 9.5 points per game.
“What bothered me was the scouted defense,” Foster said. “I have never faced a scouted defense, so they scouted me very well. They knew every move I was going to do. I also over pressured myself about it.”
If Kansas decides to focus on stopping Foster again, which is all the more likely after this weekend’s showing, the Wildcats will need to find production from some players who have been quiet recently.
Junior forward Thomas Gipson has been held to single-digit scoring in three of his last four games, with just three points and 11 rebounds against Texas. His slimmed physique has paid huge dividends this season, and he has been a monster at times inside. How he matches up with Embiid will go a long ways towards deciding the game.
“We just need to play team defense, we need to rebound better,” Gipson said. “Overall we just need to play better. Our offense was just too stagnant. No one was moving or cutting, just waiting on something to happen. Everyone was ball watching and it cannot be like that Monday, we all have to share the ball.”
Senior forward Shane Southwell also had a low-scoring day against Texas, although no one else needed to put up points with Foster’s outburst. The senior is averaging 11 points per game, but has scored 11 total in his last three contests, so he will no doubt be hungry for a big game in his last regular season Sunflower Showdown.
A win is huge for either team, both in bragging rights and RPI. While the Wildcats could use a marquee victory for their postseason resume, Kansas will not want to cede their dominance on the court. With the regular season drawing to its end, both teams are thirsty for a big win, and the matchup should be close as usual in Manhattan.
“They are a top-ranked team,” head coach Bruce Weber said. “They are first in the league and this is important. One, we are still fighting to get into the NCAA Tournament and the other, we have five top 50 wins. We still have several left that we are going to have challenges with, and Kansas is one of them.”