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Hobbled K-State welcomes Iowa State for rematch in Manhattan

Fresh off an injury and a double-digit loss, the Wildcats will look to regroup against the Cyclones on Wednesday

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Dean Wade didn’t play much in K-State’s last meeting with Iowa State.

D.J. Johnson didn’t play at all in K-State’s loss to West Virginia on Saturday.

The former was due to a size mismatch; the latter to an injury. Both forwards’ absences only marred K-State’s chances in each game, both road losses for the Wildcats.

K-State will likely need both players at their best to oust Iowa State 6 p.m. Wednesday evening in Manhattan on ESPN 2.

Johnson, after spraining his ankle last Monday against Kansas, will make a game-time decision Wednesday as to his status:

It goes without saying that K-State will need Johnson to have a shot at winning just its second game since Feb. 4, when the Wildcats knocked off then-No. 2 Baylor on the road. K-State’s last win before that? Jan. 21, at home against then-No. 7 West Virginia.

The Wildcats have lost five of their last six games, a string of setbacks that began Jan. 24 with a road loss to Iowa State. The visitors trailed by 20 at halftime, only to roar back and take the lead with five minutes to go. From there, though, K-State never pulled closer than two.

It sets the stage for an intriguing rematch at Bramlage Coliseum. Not only will Johnson’s status be questionable until game time, but K-State coach Bruce Weber didn’t play Wade for the final 17:04 of the second half in Ames, Iowa. Wade watched from the bench as his team came back from what seemed an insurmountable deficit and watched it slip away in the final minutes.

Chalk it up to size reasons — what most agreed upon following the game — or something else, but it’s fair to say Wade will log serious minutes if Johnson is unable to go on Wednesday. If his decision to bench Wade for so long Jan. 24 is any indication, Weber may not enjoy tasking Wade with his average of 27.5 minutes a game, but he won’t have much choice if Johnson sits.

From a mismatch perspective, Weber may not have been completely in the wrong. Iowa State employs a small lineup, even smaller now that Dylan Montz at The Gazette in Ames reported that 6-foot-8 freshman forward Solomon Young is now a starter.

That makes Iowa State’s starting lineup such: guards Monte Morris (6’3), Naz Mitrou-Long (6’4), Matt Thomas (6’5), Deonte Burton (6’5) and the forward Young (6’8).

That said, the 6’10 Wade understandably had problems against the Cyclones in the teams’ first meeting this season. The sophomore forward scored just two points on 1-for-5 shooting.

K-State will have more on its mind than match-ups, though. Thomas gashed the Wildcats for 25 points behind seven 3-pointers in January, including a seemingly impossible, guarded jumper to give the Cyclones the lead for good in the second half.

Guarding the 3, as K-State so miserably failed to do against Iowa State in Ames, has been a hallmark of its recent skid and of its season as a whole. The Wildcats rank dead last in the Big 12 on that front, allowing opponents a 39-percent success rate from distance.

In that sense, things don’t look to be improving any time soon for K-State — but its schedule does. After Wednesday, the Wildcats face a road match-up with Texas and a home tilt with Oklahoma State, followed by a game against Oklahoma in Norman.

Nothing easy, but certainly a far cry from a string of games against Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia.

A 10-seed in ESPN’s latest Bracketology and on the right side of the bubble for now, K-State needs all the wins it can snag in the final six games of its regular-season slate.

It all kicks off Wednesday against Iowa State.