SE: Stokes, K-State MBB Staying Present in Big 12 Title Race

By Corbin McGuire

K-State’s players had no idea they just made history. 

The Wildcats’ win at Baylor last Saturday marked their eighth in a row in conference play, the most by a K-State team in the Big 12 era. It’s also the program’s longest conference winning streak since the 1973-74 Wildcat team won 11-consecutive games when it was the Big Eight Conference. 

But, to these Wildcats, their latest win was not important for any reason other than the present.  

“No, we didn’t know that,” senior guard Kamau Stokes said. “We weren’t really worried about it. It’s just next game. This is the game for first place to us. We want to stay where we’re at and they were in our way. That’s all that matters.”

Stokes has been a solid individual example of this type of presently-focused mindset. 

After he scored a team-high 20 points in K-State’s win in Waco, Texas, Stokes admitted he was unaware of the fact that TCU beat Iowa State a few hours earlier, which helped give his team a 1.5-game lead over Texas Tech, Iowa State and Baylor in second place. 

“We’ve got to approach every game the same way to stay in first,” he said. “I didn’t know that, though.”

For Stokes, he said he has entered every game this season with the same mentality. Against Baylor, it happened to translate into Stokes notching his ninth career 20-point game — K-State has won the last four times he’s hit or surpassed that number. 

“You’re happy for Kam. He’s played well here,” K-State head coach Bruce Weber said, as Stokes also scored 20 points in his first game at Baylor. “He knows how to attack (Baylor’s zone). He’s grown and learned. He did some great things.” 

“I just knew I had to come out and play,” Stokes added. “I take that approach every game, no matter how many points I get, to come out and play, lead our team to a win. Being one of the leaders on this team, that’s the most important thing, is winning.” 

Quietly, Stokes has been a steadying force for his team during its current win streak. 

He has scored eight or more points in seven of his team’s last nine games, while averaging 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game in that stretch. 

“We need a playmaker that doesn’t mind passing. Kam’s smart,” Weber said earlier this season. “With him and Dean (Wade), it gives you intelligence, experience and somebody that can pass the basketball. It helps.” 

Last Saturday, the 6-foot guard even pulled in a career-high six rebounds to help his team win the battle of the boards against a Baylor team that ranks 11th in the NCAA in offensive rebounding. 

“I think it might be the most rebounds I’ve had in my whole career in one game,” Stokes said after the game. “I took that upon myself to get in there, help my big guys get all the loose, long rebounds that they couldn’t get because they’re on the inside. It meant a lot.”

K-State returned to Texas for its rematch against the Longhorns in Austin on Tuesday night at 8 p.m., on ESPN2. The Wildcats were without Stokes and Wade the first time around against Texas to open conference play, when the Longhorns won by 20 in Bramlage Coliseum. 

Now, with both seniors back healthy, Weber said his team should embody the same mental approach Stokes spoke about, which jumpstarted the Wildcats to their current win streak. 

“They’re fighting for their lives, too, to stay up in the top and get in the (NCAA) Tournament,” Weber said of Texas. “All we can worry about is one game at a time. I guess it’s a little bit of good fortune that TCU won at Iowa State, but it doesn’t mean anything. There are lot of games to go. We’ve got to keep plugging along one game at a time.”

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Source: Kansas State Sports