The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - LETTERS - JA­SON WHITLOCK

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 jwhit­[email protected]­star.com. For pre­vi­ous col­umns, go to KansasCity.com.

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