K-State limping into Valentine’s Day matchup against Oklahoma

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Junior forward Nino Williams shoots a layup during the second half of the Wildcats' 72-66 victory over the #25 Oklahoma Sooners on Jan. 14, 2014 in Bramlage Coliseum. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

Four weeks ago, K-State traveled to Norman, Oklahoma and upset the then-No. 16-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on the road in the middle of a wild 10-day stretch that saw the Wildcats claw to the top of the Big 12.

For some, that game feels like it happened just yesterday. In reality, it’s been a long month since then. The Wildcats (12-13, 5-7) have gone 3-6 since the game in Norman, dropping five-straight games for the first time since February 2005.

Meanwhile, No. 17 Oklahoma (17-7, 8-4), has been trending in the opposite direction. The Sooners have gone 6-3 since the overtime loss to K-State, including a five-game winning streak that has boosted them into second place in the Big 12.

During the streak, Oklahoma is averaging a 19-point margin of victory. Their 45-point trouncing of Texas Tech certainly helped, but the Sooners have four of the five games by double digits and the fifth by eight points to Oklahoma State.

The Sooners enter Saturday’s matchup fighting for a chance to extend their streak and maintain close distance to Kansas atop the standings. K-State is simply fighting to stay above .500.

K-State’s defense will be tested by the Sooners, who are led by the conference’s leading scorer and two of its best 3-point shooters. Junior guard Buddy Hield has been phenomenal on the season averaging 17.6 points and 2.8 3-pointers per game. In the first meeting against K-State, Hield finished with 31 points, 20 of which came in the opening half.

Hield and company pose a significant threat to the Wildcat defense, which is the third-worst in the conference at guarding long-range shots and the second-worst field goal defense. On the season, the Wildcats have allowed opposing teams to shoot 33 percent from behind the arc and 45 percent from the field overall.

K-State will look to the leadership and recent form of senior forward Nino Williams. Williams followed up his team-leading 13-point performance in the loss to Texas last Saturday by tying a career high with 22 points to lead all scorers against West Virginia on Wednesday night.

Williams has been the most consistent player for the Wildcats when completely healthy and has been able to shoot the ball consistently with a shooting percent slightly above 50 percent. Williams is also the first Wildcat to make 100 field goals this season, breaking the century mark on a layup with 2:25 remaining in the game against the Mountaineers.

While Williams has been able to elevate his game in the most recent pair of games, no other player has been able to consistently score. Freshman guard Tre Harris shot 7-14 against Texas Tech and Texas before being held scoreless against West Virginia and sophomore Brandon Bolden has put in productive minutes, but neither have threatened to take over games on a consistent basis.

One of the biggest factors effecting the Wildcats’ chances against the Sooners will be the status of sophomore guard Marcus Foster. Foster, who was suspended alongside freshman forward Malek Harris before the Texas Tech game for violating team rules, hasn’t seen the court in three games. He and Harris did travel to Morgantown on Wednesday, though, and are expected to play against Oklahoma Saturday according to reports.

Without Foster, K-State has struggled to make up for his production offensively. Junior transfer Justin Edwards has stepped up, as well as senior forward Thomas Gipson, but Foster’s 14 points per game have not been able to be replicated in the last three contests.

However, K-State was able to eclipse the 60-point mark for the first time since Foster and Harris’ suspension began, and 70 points for the first time since the loss at Iowa State on Jan. 20.

Tipoff on Saturday between K-State and Oklahoma is set for 7 p.m. from Bramlage Coliseum.

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