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SLATE: One spot from the top

The women’s basketball squad continues to make history; the men stumbled on the road.

Serena Sundell #4 of the Kansas State Wildcats goes to the basket against Amari Whiting #1 of the BYU Cougars in the second half at Bramlage Coliseum on January 27, 2024 in Manhattan, Kansas Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Women’s Basketball

The latest AP rankings are out, and your Kansas State Wildcats are the Number 2 team in the country. This is just the second time in school history that the Wildcats have earned the #2 spot in the polls, with the last time coming in week two of the 2002-2003 season (11/25/02). The ranking comes as the MittieCats are off to their best start in school history, a 20-1 overall mark that features a current 14-game win streak (tied for longest at K-State with the 08-09 squad’s 14-0 start to their season) and a 9-0 mark to open Big 12 play. It’s the first time since 96-97 that K-State has opened Big 12 play with 9-straight wins, and the first Big 12 team since Baylor in 2019-20 to start 9-0.

This past week, K-State’s wins included beating No. 13 Baylor (whose ranking did not change this week) in Waco last Monday evening, handing the Bears their first loss at the new Foster Pavillion. The Cats were led by a trio of players to hit 16 points, including an unexpected explosion from sophomore forward Eliza Maupin, who nearly had a double-double with 16 points and 9 rebounds to help propel K-State to a 58-55 road win. It was K-State’s first win in Waco since...you may have guessed it: 2003.

Saturday’s return home was not quite as easy as expected, and BYU gave the MittieCats all the could handle for 40 minutes, even taking a 26-23 lead into halftime. But K-State pulled ahead with a strong 3rd quarter, and did enough in the 4th to pull out a 67-65 win to remain unbeaten. It was just the third time this season that the Cats have let an opponent break the 60-point mark, and the first time in Manhattan.

The Cats were led in scoring by Gisela Sanchez with 18, which was good to see as she had a rough couple outings prior to this game. Serena Sundell chipped in 14 and grabbed 7 rebounds, while Gabby Gregory was the only other Cat in double figures with 10 points. In a game the Wildcats shot very poorly (36% from the floor, 37% from deep, and 56.5% at the line), they made up for it with volume, with the edge coming at the free throw line (K-State shot 23 and made 13, while BYU shot just 10 from the stripe). Good teams win games they should win, great teams win games they have no business winning, and that was K-State on Saturday.

Next up is the final trip to Norman in Big 12 play, as the Cats take on OU (13-6, 7-1) on Wednesday night (1/31) at 6pm CT. That game will be streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. The Sooners sit just a game back of the Wildcats in the Big 12 standings, and will be looking to avenge their sole loss in Big 12 play — a 74-57 K-State in in Manhattan.

That game is part of a two-game road trip that ends with the Cats’ final trip to Austin in Big 12 play. The No. 12 Longhorns (19-3, 6-3) will also be looking to avenge their loss to K-State in Manhattan, a game the Cats squeaked out 61-58 with Ayoka Lee available. Surprisingly, that game will actually be available to the general public to watch, as it will be aired on FS1 (instead of LHN) at 1pm CT on Sunday (2/4).

Men’s Basketball

It was a ROUGH week for the TangCats.

The Wildcats first game of their two-game road streak was less of a basketball game and more of an awful officiating showcase (it wasn’t just against K-State, it was awful in general). K-State’s game against Iowa State was never going to be pretty anyway, but without any rhythm to be found amid the whistles and stoppages, it was amazing that either team scored as much as they did.

And it wasn’t just officiating that made it bad for K-State, they TangCats came out flat out of the gate, and quickly gave up a 6-0 run before coming alive. But it wasn’t quite enough, and the Cyclones kept slowly building their lead, taking a 41-29 lead into halftime. But the Wildcats weren’t dead yet, and fought back after halftime to tie the game first at 47, then kept things tight to 61. The Clones took a 4 point lead, then disaster struck. With the Cyclones in the double-bonus, David N’Guessan was called for a foul when the Iowa State player tripped, and Jerome Tang drew a technical for waving his arm in disgust. Three made free-throws later, followed by a haymaker 3pt make, and the lead ballooned back out to double-digits, and K-State just couldn’t answer again, falling 78-67 in Ames on Wednesday night.

Things went from bad to worse in Houston, as the Wildcats came out flat again, this time against a really good Cougars squad, and fell to No. 4 Houston 74-52 on Saturday. The Wildcats didn’t pick up their first points until the 14:12 mark (nearly 6 minutes into the game and after the first media timeout), and by then were already down double-figures to Houston. The Cougars took a 41-21 lead into halftime for nearly all of the final margin. Much like against Miami earlier this season, the Wildcats played much closer in the second half, but even with Houston taking their foot off the gas somewhat, the Cougars still out-scored the Cats in the second stanza.

The question now is can K-State (14-6, 4-3) bounce back this week. They’ve got No. 23 OU in town on Tuesday (7pm CT, Big 12 Now on ESPN+), and the Sooners (15-5, 3-4) will be looking to regain their own footing after also dropping both their games this past week (and both at home). Then a trip to Stillwater on Saturday, and despite their own woes, the Pokes (9-11, 1-6), who finally picked up their first conference win this past Saturday, will be a tough out on their home court.

At least the KU game is still a week away.

Baseball

The preseason lists continue to roll out, and last week the Big 12 released their preseason rankings. TCU took home 11 of the 12 first-place votes available to them, with Texas grabbing the other two, but K-State earned enough votes sit alone in 5th place behind Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, and ahead of 2023 NCAA Regional participants Oklahoma and West Virginia who tied for 6th. But the real headline for K-State was the All-Big 12 Preseason Team, as three Wildcats earned a spot of the list. Pitcher Owen Boerema, infielder Kaelen Culpepper, and relief ace Tyson Neighbors each received their first Big 12 preseason honor of their respective careers, while Neighbors was also one of six to be unanimously selected to the Preseason All-Big 12 Team.

And that’s not it for Neighbors, who has also been tabbed as a Preseason All-American by Perfect Game, as the fireball-throwing junior was named D1Baseball.com’s Big 12 Preseason Pitcher of the Year in their conference preview.

The BatCats open their season on Feb 16th, which is a little less than three weeks away.

Tennis

The RacquetCats have started the spring season with a bang, opening 3-0 with wins over Drake, Wichita State, and South Dakota. The win over the Shockers came Friday afternoon, as K-State took a 5-2 win in Wichita, grabbing the doubles point before picking up enough victories in the singles matches to pick up a road win. On Sunday, the Wildcats returned home to face the Coyotes, and powered through on the way to a 7-0 win.

Next up is a trip out to Denver to face DU on Friday at noon CT, followed by Iowa on Saturday at 11am CT (yes, in Denver). K-State is 1-2 all-time versus the Pioneers, and 2-3 all-time versus the Hawkeyes.