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January 24, 2009BOULDER, Colo. -- Stuck in a four-game Big 12 losing streak and still searching for their first conference victory, the Kansas State Wildcats will need to find a win on the road to avoid falling to 0-5 in league play and driving themselves deeper into the Big 12's basement. If there was ever a prime opportunity for a struggling team to steal a victory on an opponent's home floor, this is it.
Young, inexperienced and inconsistent in many ways, this year's Colorado team shows many of the same symptoms as the Wildcats but maybe personified, making grabbing a win in Boulder not only a must-do, but also a should-do for K-State.
If alarms aren't already sounding in the K-State locker room and in this team's collective head, a loss to 8-9 Colorado would definitely set some off. K-State will be the more talented team in Saturday's contest, but according to most Wildcat players, the group's recent struggles haven't been about talent.
At this point, no game, especially one against a conference foe, should be taken for granted.
"It's always tough to lose four in a row," K-State senior forward Darren Kent said. "Most of these guys were on the team with us last year. We had a losing streak like this one towards the end of that season and we dug out of it last year. We know we have the talent, we come to practice everyday and we work as hard as we can. It's just about going out every game and executing and getting it done."
So if the talent to compete at a high level is present, just what is it that's prohibiting the Wildcats from getting into the win column?
It's clear to most who follow the K-State that comparisons between last year's team, which featured a pair of NBA talents, and this year's squad are stretch to say the least, but Coach Frank Martin insists that isn't because of the most obvious reasons.
According to Martin, the difference between the two teams boils to down to experience and on-court leadership, not ability.
"We lost four games in a row last year at the end of the season," he said. "The difference there is that we had two senior guards in Blake Young and Clent Stewart. They wouldn't let that team fall apart and they helped me. And then you had Bill Walker. He was the personality that really helped that team go forward. (Denis Clemente) is really trying to be that person for us this year. We need to follow his energy."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Clemente will indeed play an important role both in Saturday's contest and beyond, as his ability to create looks for his teammates will determine how this team will fare going forward.
Clemente and fellow guard Jacob Pullen have been erratic as of late, committing piles of turnovers and not shooting well from the floor, but with that said, the Wildcats won't have to break any scoring records to win this weekend in Boulder.
Colorado is averaging just 66 points per game this season, and CU guards Nate Tomlinson and Dwight Thorne will likely have trouble handling K-State's ball pressure. The Buffs are averaging nearly 15 turnovers per game and such a statistic plays right into the Wildcats' hand.
If Pullen, Clemente or both find a rhythm early in the contest, it should open up the inside, where K-State will hold a size advantage over the Buffaloes, but if the guard duo once again struggles to find a groove, the Wildcats could once again find themselves down early.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Forward Dominique Sutton was 5 for 8 from the floor against Baylor and showed the athleticism that made him a heavily recruited commodity less than two years ago. His 12 points against the Bears didn't lead the team, but he was by far K-State's most efficient offensive weapon.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE BUFFALOES: Colorado sophomore Cory Higgins' 21 points led Colorado's scoring effort in the Buffs' loss to Texas Tech on Wednesday. Higgins has now scored 20 points or more in back-to-back games, going a combined 10 for 21 from the floor in those contests.