January 29, 2008

Slowing KU's scoring is a challenge

For as much as a bullish offense has guided No. 22 Kansas State to its best conference start in 20 seasons, players by the end of film session and practice on Monday knew fully the magnitude of the challenge they would encounter defensively in facing a balanced and explosive cast that has helped to keep second-ranked Kansas as one of only two unbeatens in America. Throughout the defense-heavy session, freshman Bill Walker stewed inside with one unpleasant memory.

"We look at that Xavier loss and how many points we gave up and that's uncalled for," he said. "Ever since then, we've been making one stop at a time. We know we can win games easier on defense instead of trying to outscore people."

Among the storylines that waft across the state as Kansas, 20-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big 12, and K-State, 14-4 and 4-0, prepare to meet when both are ranked for the first time since March 8, 1958, the Wildcats' ability to contain their in-state rivals, who are outscoring their foes by a nation-leading 24.8 points per game, warrants keen interest as the Wildcats look to emerge from the 7 p.m. contest Wednesday night with sole possession of first place in the ultra-competitive Big 12. Kansas seeks to capture its ninth straight Big 12 road victory and continue its outrageous streak of 24 straight wins in Manhattan.

Since suffering a 103-77 loss at Xavier on New Year's Eve, the rapidly maturing young Wildcats went bonkers in drilling Savannah State (85-25), then outlasted Oklahoma (84-82) for their first win in Norman since 1996 before they shut down then-No. 10 Texas A&M (75-54) for their most-lopsided victory against a Top 10 team in history, and handled Colorado (72-56) and Iowa State (82-57).

Just as shooting percentages against K-State have dropped to 40.5 percent in Big 12 games (second in the Big 12 in league contests), scoring offense, too, has slid to 62.2 points after holding three straight teams to fewer than 60 points for the first time since 1983. Only the Jayhawks have been stingier in scoring defense (58.2 points) during Big 12 competition.

"We're winning not by scoring more points, but by stopping them from scoring," star freshman Michael Beasley said. "That's something Coach Frank Martin wanted us to do for a long time and we've picked up on it."

But Kansas is a different monster. And, yes, the point-scoring Jayhawks have been monsters, leading the Big 12 overall in three offensive categories, including scoring offense (83.3 points), field goal percentage (51.6) and assists (19.8). During the Big 12 season, those averages have dipped slightly. Still, its 81.4 points in league games ranks only behind Baylor, while accuracy from the floor (50.0 percent), 3-point percentage (44.7), and assists (19.4) remain atop the league. Looking for rebounding margin? There's none better than Kansas' plus-10.2 advantage on the boards against league opponents.

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