Manhattan, KS (Sports Network) - The 10th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats attempt to bounce back from a loss earlier this week when they return to Bramlage Coliseum for a Big 12 Conference clash with the Baylor Bears.
Baylor took a tumble in the conference standings a few weeks back with a three-game losing streak, but since then it has bounced back nicely with back- to-back wins over Texas Tech (75-48) and West Virginia (80-60). The Bears are now 16-8 overall and just a game out of first place in the conference at 7-4.
Following a recent four-game win streak, Kansas State sat alone in first place in the conference standings, but it dropped its recent showdown with rival Kansas, 83-62, to fall into a three-way tie atop the league with the Jayhawks and Oklahoma State at 8-3. The Wildcats have been especially strong at home this season, winning 11 of 12 games at Bramlage Coliseum.
Baylor won two of three against Kansas State during the 2011-12 season, including in the Big 12 Tournament Quarterfinals, 82-74. The Wildcats still lead the all-time series, 14-12.
The Bears carried just a four-point lead into halftime in their latest game against West Virginia, but they went on to shoot nearly 60 percent from the field after the break as they cruised to the 20-point victory. With star forwards Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin battling foul trouble, Rico Gathers came off the bench to post a career-night, shooting 7-of-8 from the field and 8-of-10 from the foul line for 22 points to go along with nine rebounds. Brady Heslip was on fire from 3-point range (6-of-9) en route to 20 points, while Pierre Jackson tallied 15 points and nine rebounds.
Baylor has been sound at both ends of the court this season, scoring 75.5 ppg while allowing opponents to net only 63.2 ppg, and only Kansas boasts a better scoring margin in the Big 12 (+12.3). Jackson has been arguably the conference's best playmaker, as he ranks first in both scoring (18.9 ppg) and assists (6.2 apg) while also swiping 1.7 spg. Austin (13.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and Jefferson (12.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.0 bpg) make up one of the most feared frontcourt duos in the nation, while Heslip (8.8 ppg) has drained nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts (54-of-136).
The Wildcats were out of their element going to Lawrence to face Kansas, as they found themselves down by 18 at the half. It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort, as they allowed the Jayhawks to make 48.3 percent of their field goal attempts. Rodney McGruder was the top performer in the setback with 20 points for his seventh 20-plus point effort this season. Angel Rodriguez added 17 points, six assists and three steals, while Will Spradling chipped in 10 points.
On the season, K-State's offense is perfectly mediocre by Big 12 standards, ranking fifth out of 10 teams in scoring 68.5 ppg, but it has risen in the ranks thanks to its outstanding scoring defense, which yields less than 60 ppg to its opponents. It is also aided by impressive margins in the rebounding (+4.2) and turnover (+2.5) battles. McGruder shoots nearly 45 percent from the field en route to a team-best 15.2 ppg, while Rodriguez is one of the conference's top floor generals with 105 assists to only 45 turnovers, adding a team-high 30 steals for good measure.