February 23, 2008

Cats hit road still in search of win

Less that two weeks ago, the sun shined brightly on Frank Martin and his Kansas State basketball team, as they sat alone atop the Big 12 with a 5-0 league record, but a Feb. 2 loss at Missouri began to dim the skies over the Wildcats' heads. Two road losses later, K-State finds itself under a compete overcast, as dropping a fourth consecutive game away from Manhattan would make attaining their goal of a regular-season championship unlikely to say the least.

K-State comes into Saturday's game at Baylor a full game behind conference leaders Texas and Kansas, but still in control its own Big 12 destiny. A loss in Waco would change everything, however, while win over the 17-8 Bears would be equally large, as it would keep the Wildcats in the thick of the championship hunt and exorcize the road demons that have recently haunted Martin's team.

"If we want to compete for a championship, this is not the time to be losing games on the road or at home," Martin said of the upcoming showdown with Baylor. "We're still right in the middle of this thing. If we win, we'll give ourselves a chance. If we don't, then we wont."

It sounds so simple, doesn't it?

But in order to keep its championship dream off life support, K-State will have to find a way past a perimeter-orientated Baylor team that boasts four players who have attempted more than 100 3-pointers on the season.

"They have five guards that can all shoot, pass and dribble," Martin said of the Bears. "They do it all at a high level. We have to make sure that we guard the 3-point line against them."

So after looking so weak defensively just days ago at Nebraska, it will be the responsibility of the K-State backcourt to prevent a damaging long-range assault Saturday.

"It starts on the defensive end," K-State senior Clent Stewart said. "All of (Baylor's guards) are athletic. All of them are quick. All of them can score. Arguably, they have the best guards in the Big 12. Everything is predicated around those guards. This is going to be a tough task for us."

The renewed defensive focus the K-State must show Saturday won't be limited to its backcourt, however.

Unfortunately for K-State (18-7), it's not the deep threat alone that can hurt them. The Bears are capable of lighting up the scoreboard, and their points seem to come from every direction at times. Head coach Scott Drew's team ranks 15th nationally in scoring, and the 81.4 points per game it is averaging ranks second in the Big 12 behind only Kansas. Baylor's Curtis Jerrells, LaceDarius Dunn, Kevin Rogers and Henry Dugat all average more than 11 points per contest, so Martin and his team can forget about keying in on just one scoring threat on Saturday.

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