K-STATE FANS HELPED WILDCATS
MGiven unexpected life in the Big 12 title race earlier in the afternoon, Frank Martin’s Kansas State Wildcats responded with a first-half offensive output that brought back memories of Tom Asbury. The sixth-ranked Wildcats clanked 16 straight shots, finished the opening 20 minutes six of 32 from the field and — shockingly — tied with the Missouri Tigers. How? Why? The crowd inside Bramlage Coliseum refused to allow the Wildcats to blow the opportu- nity presented to them by Oklahoma State’s upset of No. 1-ranked and Big 12-leader Kansas. The Angry Octagon beat Mizzou on Saturday night. The crowd intimidated referees
Dan Chrisman, Terry Moore and John Hampton. The crew whistled the Tigers for two intentional fouls and sent the Wildcats to the line 15 times and the Tigers twice in the first half. In the midst of K-State’s shooting funk, the Tigers built a harmless 10-point lead and never seized control of the game. K-State’s rally felt inevitable. You knew at some point Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen would make a few shots, and you knew the offensively-challenged Tigers would have trouble scoring. Sure enough, the Wildcats’ offense picked up in the second half and the Cats set the stage for a mammoth showdown Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse by knocking off the Tigers 63-53. K-State fans, take a bow. You kept the Wildcats’ title hopes alive for at least four more days and you pretty much ensured that Martin will be conference coach of the year and the favorite for national coach of the year. Had the Cats lost Saturday night, the hated Jayhawks would’ve wrapped up the conference crown, and a Kansas victory Wednesday night might have pushed Bill Self ahead of Martin for Big 12 coach of the year. Bottom line: Kansas State fans just added another $500,000 to Martin’s legitimate contract demands. At 24-4 and clearly the No. 2 team in the conference, Martin deserves a salary equal to football coach Bill Snyder ($1.8 million). If the Wildcats beat Kansas on Wednesday, it’s going to take at least $2 million to satisfy Martin. It’s a great problem to have. Martin is worth all the financial support K-State can muster. His coaching demeanor and style of play make him a perfect foil for Self. Martin might be the only coach capable of building a program in the shadow of the monster Self is powering in Lawrence. There’s no reason to assume Kansas will win. Martin’s Cats have lost one road game all season — at Mizzou. It seems to me the Wildcats play their best on the road. Martin likes being the underdog in a hostile environment. It fits his meagainst-the-world attitude. After their loss Saturday at Oklahoma State, Self complained about the toughness of his team. He said his big men played soft. Self warned that if the Jayhawks play soft on Wednesday, they’ll get beat. That speaks to the way coaches view Martin’s Wildcats. They’re known for their toughness. Obviously it would take a minor miracle for K-State to get a piece of the Big 12 regular-season crown. Kansas would have to lose three straight games — at Oklahoma State, Wednesday against K-State and at Missouri to wrap up the season. Just the fact that K-State is in the title hunt on the final day of February is a minor miracle. K-State’s victory Saturday guarantees it will finish no worse than tied for second place in the league and with a season-ender at home against Iowa State, it’s pretty much a certainty K-State will own second place all to its self. To reach Jason Whitlock, call 816-234-4869 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.