MANHATTAN, Kan. — The trophy case that greets fans next to the Section 17 entrance at Bramlage Coliseum is big enough for five pieces of hardware, and theyre all for championships, Big Eight championships. The year 1977 is etched on the plate of the most recent. Kansas State isnt hiding the newer versions. They dont exist.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Because the Wildcats beat TCU 79-68 on Tuesday, the collection can expand.
K-State worked for the outcome. The lowly Horned Frogs, looking to reprise their remarkable conquest of Kansas, closed the gap to four in the second half, and had the home fans booing loudly over over non-call with 4 minutes remaining. Nobody should have cared by then.
But the winningest senior class in Kansas State history Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving got to deliver quick, happy speeches after their 99th career victory and school-record 25th regular-season triumph this season and turn their attention to Saturday.
One game for a ring. A rugged chore on Saturday at Oklahoma State, and K-State wont be favored. The Cowboys could have the same incentive, depending on the outcome of tonights game at Iowa State.
But to arrive at this place, tied for first with Kansas at 14-3, to hear the type of pregame speech from coach Bruce Weber that players havent heard, to have the nervous energy that only those on the cusp of a title feel, is an occasion to be savored.
Had a call or two gone the other way last week in Kansas victory over Iowa State, nets might have been snipped at Bramlage on Tuesday. Weber gave his Wildcats the goal of celebrating a league title on Senior Day. But it wasnt to be.
Now we have to go and earn it, thats what championships should be, Weber said. We have to lay it all out, play with no regrets.
And hope this is a new normal. Or a renewed normal.
Decades ago, Kansas State regularly approached the end of regular seasons precisely in this spot or better. They won and competed for league titles. Big Seven and the early years of Big Eight basketball typically became a feud settled between K-State and Kansas.
Dan Lykins transferred to Kansas State from St. Benedicts in Atchison after his sophomore year in 1965, and couldnt believe his fortune. Basketball games at Ahearn were parties. K-State didnt win em all
But we went there thinking wed never lose, Lykins said. And for so many years, when it came to basketball, you didnt believe you could win. You knew you could.
He remembers going to football games at the old stadium. This was long before Bill Snyder, and the Wildcats were dreadful then, but there was always a highlight.
The basketball team would come into the stadium as a group, and wed stand up and applaud, Lykins said.
The Wildcats have given Lykins many reasons to cheer over the years. A Topeka-based attorney and member of the Kansas Board of Regents, hes attended every bowl game in the programs history and missed only the Baylor trip during the Wildcats Big 12 championship football season (I blame myself for losing the perfect record.).
But those of Lykins generation must be taking special delight in this K-State hardwood success. No one knew quite what to expect after Frank Martin abruptly departed last season for South Carolina. Bob Huggins had struck the match, Martin spread the flame and basketball was revitalized. NCAA Tournaments have become the norm. The thrill was back.
Not the championships, however. In the best season under Martin, the 29-victory and Elite Eight squad of 2010, Kansas State finished four games out of first place.
The Weber hire wasnt initially embraced. Fired at Illinois, he was set to take the College of Charleston job when Wildcats athletic director John Currie called.
Four starters returned, but the Wildcats were slow to adapt to Webers motion offense, losing big to Michigan and Gonzaga early.
A defining victory over Florida at the Sprint Center got K-State rolling, and theyve lost only three since then, including the regular-season series to Kansas.
Lykins, like every other purple-blooded Wildcat, wants an outright conference title. But a share would also work as the Wildcats look to cross another threshold, perhaps the final one in the restoration of the basketball program matching up with the Jayhawks. Beating them at Bramlage, where KU has won 23 of 25, remains an elusive achievement.
But so did reaching the final game with a conference championship at stake, until this season.
The Wildcats have taken the next step.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.