MANHATTAN — It was the kind of game that had to leave the Kansas State Wildcats wondering what might have been.
It certainly got No. 1-ranked Kansas' attention.
A 62-58 loss notwithstanding, the Wildcats showed the kind of defense, determination and grit that had been missing for much of their current nine-game losing streak, and gave their fans reason to stick around Bramlage Coliseum on Saturday until the very end.
"We were ready to play, we played hard, we competed," K-State coach Bruce Weber said after watching the Wildcats play KU even-up for 32 minutes. "You probably don't have enough weapons in gut-check time and they made the plays to get it back to six, eight, and then they win the game."
Xavier Sneed scored for K-State to tie the game at 48 with 7:57 left, but that's when the Jayhawks ran off eight straight points on two Devon Dotson free throws, a Christian Braun 3-pointer and Dotson three-point play to gain the necessary separation.
With two regular-season games left and a 9-20 record — 2-14 in the Big 12 — it's too late to turn things around completely, but it made one wonder where this effort had been all year.
"That's what I asked the guys after (the game)," Weber said. "Do it for yourself this last week. Come back with the same mindset."
That also was Sneed's message after a 13-point, five-rebound performance.
"Especially coming off (playing) the No. 1 team in the nation, we've just got to keep that same mentality going to practice," he said. "I feel like we had a great week of practice as well, and just keep that going."
The Wildcats' defensive effort was reminiscent of last year's Big 12 championship team as they made life difficult inside for KU big man Udoka Azubuike, who also was hampered by a right ankle injury. They also held most of the other Jayhawks in check, with the exception of point guard Devon Dotson, who finished with 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
"We showed our capabilities of what we could do defensively, but one thing we can't guard is the free-throw line, so we've got to learn to stop fouling," Sneed said of KU's 22-for-31 free-throw performance. "In the first half, that was all they were scoring off, really. If we do a good job of staying locked in on defense and stop fouling, we'll be all right."
Weber liked the overall defensive effort.
"We've always prided ourselves on defense and we haven't been quite as good defensively," he said. "You look at their stats and no one's overwhelming except one guy (Dotson) and he's a difference-maker."
Weber often talked during the season about how Sneed, big man Makol Mawien and junior guard Cartier Diarra had adjusting to being the "guys on the billboard." But for one day at least, those three were pivotal in allowing K-State to stay with a KU team battling for a league championship.
"The consistency is what we need," Weber said. "When your best players play well, it makes it a lot easier to coach."
Mawien drew the defensive assignment on KU posts Azubuike and David McCormack and finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Diarra led the Wildcats in scoring with 15 points.
"I thought Mak was really good. He played hard (and) really battled. Even when Azubuike was in there, he was manning up, he was playing strong," Weber said. "Xavier gave great effort defensively, I thought. Leadership.
"Obviously (Diarra) can make plays for us. It helps everybody else because he can get downhill like Dotson can to make people help."
Asked where the Wildcats would be today with more efforts like the one they showed against KU, Sneed shrugged.
"It's what if. You never know," he said. "We came out with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, too."
But in the end, they also came out with a loss.
"I wanted them to win for themselves today and it would have been nice for them," Weber said. "But again, credit Kansas. They found a way to win."