Being without one, and possibly two, key players could make it more difficult for Oklahoma State to end its recent struggles against surging Kansas State.
Faced with some adversity, the sixth-ranked Cowboys open Big 12 play against a Wildcats team trying to win nine straight for the first time in four seasons.Oklahoma State (12-1) shot 57.1 percent and recorded a season-high 27 assists on 32 field goals during Monday's 92-66 home rout of Robert Morris. It was a spirited effort for the Cowboys, who have won five straight since falling 73-68 to then-No. 21 Memphis on Dec. 1.The Cowboys, though, lost starting center Michael Cobbins to a season-ending Achilles injury Monday. Though the 6-foot-8 junior averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 points, he was the team's only true starting forward."Any time you lose any player, it puts a little bit of a dent in your team, but it also gives other players an opportunity," coach Travis Ford said.Averaging 13.5 points and 6.1 boards, 6-7 swingman Le'Bryan Nash could move into more of a center role.Though not a post presence, reserve guard Stevie Clark was a player Ford hoped could benefit from more time as a result of Cobbins' injury. However, Clark was arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession Wednesday.Averaging 7.0 points and 3.7 assists, the freshman recorded a season-high nine assists Monday. Clark, whose status for this game is uncertain, was suspended four games in November for undisclosed reasons.Regardless of who is on the floor, the Cowboys face a tough task against Kansas State (10-3). The Wildcats have won four of five overall in the series, plus two straight and three of the last four meetings at Bramlage Coliseum.Oklahoma State shot 56.8 percent during a 76-70 home win over the Wildcats on March 9, but 35.2 in its two losses during the 2012-13 series in which both teams were ranked in each contest. Kansas State held the Cowboys to a season-low 30.5 percent shooting during a 68-57 victory in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament March 15.The Wildcats have limited opponents to 51.6 points and 36.5 percent shooting during their eight-game winning streak. Kansas State hasn't won nine in a row since a 10-game run during the 2009-10 season."It's (a) great challenge for our team," said Ford, whose squad won 93-67 at South Florida in its only true road game this season. "Kansas State is playing terrific. They're playing the best basketball they've played all season without question."Oklahoma State sophomore guard Phil Forte has played some of his best basketball in the last two games, totaling 36 points and going 9 of 15 from 3-point range.Teammate Marcus Smart, however, has struggled recently. Averaging a team-high 17.2 points, he's scored 11.8 per game in the last six while going 6 for 25 from 3-point range.The sophomore, though, averaged 21.3 points and shot 51.3 percent in three games against the Wildcats last season. He scored 25 in a 73-67 loss at Kansas State on Jan. 5.Wildcats guard Shane Southwell, who totaled 19 points and shot 7 of 19 in the three meetings with Oklahoma State last season, has scored 40 while making half of his 30 shots and eight of 15 3-point attempts in the last two games. He scored a career-high 21 during a 72-55 home victory over George Washington on Tuesday.A winner in eight straight and 26 of 28 at home, Kansas State won 72-62 over then-No. 21 Gonzaga on Dec. 21 in its only game against a ranked opponent this season.