The old saying is, "never let one game beat you twice." That expression could not be more appropriate for the Kansas State basketball team. On the heels of a frustrating 59-55 loss at home to rival Kansas on Tuesday night, the No. 11 Wildcats will head to Iowa State on Saturday in need of a victory and a short memory.
"As coach said, we can't keep our heads down. We have a lot of basketball left," senior Rodney McGruder said after the loss to third-ranked Kansas.
The first Sunflower Showdown of 2013 had significant buildup. The two squads entered the game with matching 4-0 conference records and first place on the line, in addition to the annual in-state bragging rights.
Bramlage Coliseum was filled to capacity for the first time this season and the Wildcats were 24 hours removed from receiving their highest national ranking in three years. But all night long, K-State failed to get over the hump against its rival, leading the contest for only two very brief spells in the first half.
K-State shot just 35 percent from the field and missed 21 of its 30 attempts from 3-point range. It's safe to say the opportunities were there for a Wildcat victory.
"Had you looked at the game ahead of time and seen the game was in the fifties, you thought you'd have a chance to get a victory," K-State coach Bruce Weber said. "We felt we were in great position to give ourselves a chance."
Less than an hour after the game, the Wildcats' attention was already shifting from frustration and disappointment to what lies ahead.
K-State has 13 league games left on its schedule, so there's no reason to let a loss to KU stop the impressive momentum Weber's team has built up in recent weeks, which includes three victories over RPI Top 50 teams. There are a number of different directions K-State can go from here, which Weber addressed with the media.
"We're a good team. Now, are we going to get better and move forward? Or are we going to stay stagnant? Or are we going to move backwards?" he said. "We'll find out in the next couple of weeks."
Despite Iowa State's stunning loss Wednesday night at Texas Tech, Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, is certain to provide a gut-check environment for the Wildcats. The Cyclones were No. 40 in RPI before heading to Lubbock and are now 13-5 overall this season. ISU ranks among the top teams in college basketball in points, rebounds and assists per game.
As the undisputed leader of his team, McGruder knows KU cannot stay in the Wildcats' mind for long.
"We have to get over this to prepare for Iowa State, because we have to play them no matter what," McGruder said. "They don't care if we won or lost this game. They will be prepared for us. We have to let this one go."
Historically, the Wildcats have faired well in games following the Sunflower Showdown. K-State is 5-1 in those contests since 2010. The lone loss? An 85-82 overtime defeat at ISU.
"It didn't matter if we won or lost, we still have to play on Saturday," Weber said. "I've talked about focusing on the long journey and being consistent. There's a lot of basketball left and we have to get better. We have to get our minds right. This will be a real test on Saturday to come back against a good team."
McGruder did not waste any time before beginning preparations. After leaving the media Tuesday night, he went directly to the film room to watch tape of the KU game. The Jayhawks won the game again, no doubt, but McGruder's intention was to not allow lingering effects of the KU loss turn into another real loss.