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February 11, 2009
Red Raiders next step for red-hot Cats
With a game against in-state rival and defending national champion Kansas just days away, it would be hard to blame Coach Frank Martin and Kansas State for peeking ahead on their schedule. After all, the only thing standing between them and the showdown with the No. 16 Jayhawks is a home meeting with a struggling Texas Tech squad that hasn't won on the road since Nov. 29.
If ever there was a look-ahead game, Wednesday's is it. Then again, Martin has taken strides to guard against a disaster that seems to be lurking just below the surface.
The second-year head coach will invite you into his office and locker room to take a look around, and he's quick to point out that neither place features anything that resembles a schedule. Looking down the slate of games, even if its just a few inches, is something Martin says he avoids at all costs, and he's taken it upon himself to ensure his players do the same.
"If I (looked ahead), I could see how our team could maybe think that way," Martin said. "I'm sure some of our young kids might think about that some. It's my job to make these kids understand that you have to line up and play them all. You can't be worried about two or three games down the road."
The situation is textbook. The Wildcats' current five-game winning streak makes looking past a 12-11 and 2-6 Red Raiders team tempting, no matter what K-State's coaches and players would like everyone to believe.
Just moments after K-State's road win over Texas A&M, Wildcat sophomore Jacob Pullen claimed to have no idea who his team's Saturday opponent was, and despite the guard's best efforts to sell his act, nobody in the room was buying.
"Who do we play on Saturday?" Pullen asked reporters during postgame interviews. "I really don't know."
By Monday, it was quite clear that everyone on K-State's roster are very aware of the school it will be playing host to this Saturday, and not allowing that game, however meaningful, to become a distraction has become priority No. 1.
"You try not to (think about KU), but everybody keeps bringing it up," K-State senior Darren Kent said following Monday's practice. "Coach Martin has really been preaching to us about staying focused at the task at hand." Both Kent and Martin insist that, at least for now, it's all about Texas Tech, as each cites this team's ability to stay focused in the midst of adversity and pressure as the driving reason behind the its recent success.
"When we were 0-2, we didn't worry about being 2-2," Martin said. "We were worried about being 1-2. When we won, we never talked about winning three more and being .500. We just talked about winning the next one on the schedule."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Texas Tech can score in bunches, that much has been established. The Red Raiders are averaging 70.8 points per game this season, which is the 24th highest total in the country, and head coach Pat Knight's team can get up and down with nearly anyone. The real crux of the Red Raider offense, however, comes in the halfcourt, where they will likely use a series of screens and cuts to try to trip up Wildcat defenders and get open looks at the basket.
"They'll take shots earlier in the shot clock than they used to," Martin said of Wednesday's opponent. "Still, they're going to run their motion. They will continue to cut you until they get a shot from the guys they want."
More than anyone else on the roster, the guy Texas Tech wants shooting the ball is guard Alan Voskuil. The Red Raiders' senior, who is averaging 14 points per contest this year, is nothing short of lethal from 3-point range, where he is shooting nearly 45 percent on the year.
Voskuil, along with fellow guard John Roberson, Tech's leading scorer, make the Red Raiders go on the offensive end, but it hasn't been offense that has caused problems for Tech this season.
The Red Raiders rank near the bottom of the country in scoring defense, surrendering 77.6 points per contest. Tech has given up more than 80 points in three of its last five games and has allowed an opponent to break the 100-point barrier twice.
The Wildcats' up-tempo style of offense will almost undoubtedly put a large number on the scoreboard on Saturday. So while K-State will certainly give up a significant number of points, it should ultimately claim its sixth consecutive victory in a game that won't feature a lack of scoring.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: Pullen led K-State's scoring attack in last Saturday's win at Texas A&M with 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting, while Kent has flirted with a double-double in each of the Wildcats' last two games, missing the benchmark by just one rebound on both occasions.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE RED RAIDERS: Both Voskuil and Roberson scored 18 points in Texas Tech's win over Baylor. Roberson went 4 for 8 from behind the arc and dished out 9 assists to round out his stat line.