Time to cowboy up

20 Jan

If Kansas State gets its first Big 12 road win of the season tomorrow afternoon, it will be a huge accomplishment.

Don’t be fooled by Oklahoma State’s 9-9 overall record. The Cowboys will be a handful on Saturday. For a long time, it seems like they have had Kansas State’s number. The Wildcats have not won in Gallagher-Iba Arena since 1993. Since the formation of the Big 12, Kansas State is 3-13 against Oklahoma State.

Coach Frank Martin said the arena is a crazy atmosphere and a difficult place to win. He recalled the last two games his team has played there, saying the Wildcats had managed the game but just came apart at the seams late, between foul trouble last year and crunch-time turnovers the year before that.

“That building is hard,” Martin said. “The crowd is off the charts, and they feed off of that.  They have great players and Travis [Ford] does a heck of a job with their team.”

The floor leader of the Cowboys is about as overlook-able as his team’s mediocre record. By now, though, everyone who has seen 5-foot-9 senior Keiton Page play knows better than to underestimate him. He leads the team with nearly 15 points per game – almost the average that Kansas State dynamo Rodney McGruder is sporting.

“Keiton is the heart of their team,” Martin said. “He might be the smallest player in the league, but he probably has the biggest heart.  He is a ferocious competitor.  I am not there every day, but I am told he is as good of leader as they have seen at Oklahoma State in years.  When you watch their team play, and you watch him, I think it is clear as day that he is the guy that guides them.”

However, Page is easily the most experienced of his group. According to Oklahoma State’s game notes, he is the lone senior on an eight-man rotation that aside from him includes one junior, one sophomore and five freshman.

Of course, the Wildcats are not necessarily loaded with experienced veterans themselves. In the starting lineup Kansas State has one senior, one junior, one sophomore and two freshmen. The Wildcats probably have more experience coming off the bench, but it would appear that both squads are in that growing-pains sort of stage.

The Cowboys are coming off a last-second loss to Iowa State in Ames. In that game, both Page and Le’Bryan Nash had 21 points. Oklahoma State had the advantage in most statistical categories, but the team also got just 10 opportunities at the foul line and took advantage of just five.

Remember, Kansas State took 39 foul shots on Wednesday in its 84-80 victory over Texas. Granted, that Iowa State had only 16 attempts against Oklahoma means probably means that game was 1) less physical or 2) being officiated differently, but I think it may be worth noting.

The aggression the Wildcats demonstrated in going to the rim against Texas is exactly what they have to do to be successful the rest of this season. It gets you to the foul line, it draws defenders into the paint to open up perimeter shooters and it allows you higher-percentage shots.

Saturday’s game starts at 12:30 and will be televised on the Big 12 Network.

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