March 22, 2008

Cats ready for NCAA's second round

OMAHA, Neb. -- Doubted upon its arrival to the Big Dance and dubbed a novelty by critics unfamiliar with how a team so young can send so many opposing fans crying in the streets, Kansas State is on the doorstep of its first Sweet 16 in 20 years. All it must do is conquer sixth-ranked and No. 3 seed Wisconsin in the second-round game Saturday to punch its ticket. Bill Walker, Michael Beasley and the 11th-seeded Wildcats remain adamant that they belong.

"We know nobody picked us to even be in this tournament at the beginning of the year, but we're here," Walker said during a post-practice news conference on Friday. "Once we got to the tournament, we knew nobody picked us to win the game. We did it. But we want to keep this momentum going and push it as far as we can. We feel like in that locker room it's just us versus everybody else and that's how we play."

Fueled by a partisan crowd at the Qwest Center and an us-against-the-world mentality, K-State, 21-11, led most of the way and behind freshmen sensations Beasley and Walker sent No. 6 seed Southern California packing in an 80-67 victory, which made the Wildcats the first double-digit seed to capture a win in the NCAA Tournament. Five other double-digit seeds followed suit during first-round action with upsets by No. 10 seed Davidson, No. 12 seeds Western Kentucky and Villanova, and No. 13 seeds San Diego and Siena.

While K-State-USC was billed as the sexiest first-round matchup behind its pairing of young stars, a Wildcats' win to snap the Badgers' 11-game winning streak -- tied for second nationally only behind Davidson's 23 straight wins -- would be nothing short of glamorous for a squad that played the role of giant killer twice on national television during the regular season.

K-State beat then-No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 2 Kansas earlier in the season at home. If it slays Wisconsin, 30-4, it would give the Wildcats three wins against Top 10 opponents this season, something no other team has accomplished in the school's history.

Such a feat would only add another line to the achievements by K-State first-year coach Frank Martin, who led the Wildcats to their first tournament in 12 years and delivered the first tournament win since No. 4 seed K-State upset top-ranked and top-seeded Purdue to advance to the Elite Eight in 1988.

Martin was unsure whether his team's win against USC was its best performance of the season, but behind Beasley's nation-leading 27th double-double with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and 22 points by Walker, the Wildcats captured a win away from Manhattan, something they did only one other time since the start of February.

"We beat (Texas) A&M, we beat Kansas. We played really, really well," Martin said. "I don't know if (on Thursday) we played a lot better than we did on those nights. Obviously, the difference is this might be our most complete game away from Bramlage (Coliseum)."

Walker expects for his team to be able to duplicate the feat against the Big Ten regular season and tournament champions.

"We're playing to go to the Sweet 16," he said.

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