By Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Kansas State went into the weekend with a glossy 9-1 record and a No. 6 national ranking, but most would agree that the play of the Wildcats has not been the prettiest in those first 10 games of the season.
One of those agreeing, in fact, is coach Frank Martin, who said after Saturday's 57-44 loss to Florida, "We've been playing with fire all season and the fire finally burned us."
The Wildcats fell to 9-2 with the loss and Tuesday in Kansas City's Sprint Center at 8 p.m., will try to right itself against the 10-2 UNLV Runnin' Rebels in a contest televised by ESPN2.
K-State led 20-8 at one point against the Gators, but the difference was narrowed to 23-20 by the intermission. It was the Gators owning the second half out-scoring the Wildcats 37-21 in the second half when the Cats shot just 22 percent from the field and missed all 10 of its casts from 3-point range.
In Martin's words, "Missing shots took our spirit from us. It's hard to win when you don't put the ball in the basket. The basketball not going in the basket deflated our spirit."
The 44 points were the fewest in the Martin era, and the fewest since K-State lost to Nebraska, 57-42, in 2006, as the shooting percentage of .273. Overall K-State had season-lows in 10 offensive categories against the Gators, which included points, 3-pointers, field goal percentage, rebounds and assists.
The loss was the first for a Martin-coached team when holding an opponent to 60 points or less after 27 straight wins. And, it was the first K-State loss when holding an opponent to fewer than 60 points since falling to Washington State, 58-57, on Dec. 3, 2005.
Around the perimeter, Martin saw too much dribbling and holding the ball; inside "... our big guys didn't rebound."
Against Florida, K-State was out-boarded 35-32 as guard Rodney McGruder led the team in rebounds with nine and Jacob Pullen had four rebounds, which was as many as 6-foot-10 Freddy Asprilla and three more than 6-8 Curtis Kelly.
The loss also snapped a 14-game winning streak in the month of December, which dated back to a loss to Oregon on Dec. 7, 2008.
Across the country, UNLV has recently experienced some of the same inconsistencies. After opening with a 9-0 record, the Rebels lost at Louisville, 77-69, and to Cal-Santa Barbara at home, 68-62, prior to Saturday's thumping of Southern Utah, 72-50.
UNLV is coming off a 25-9 season, which included a 95-80 loss to K-State at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
"We didn't enjoy that game at all, but this is a chance for us to play against an elite opponent," said UNLV assistant coach Steve Henson, a 1989 graduate of the K-State basketball program. "We respect the way they play. They fight, bang and bump. We don't play many people as tough, or play as physical as they do. It's a game that gets us ready for the teams in our league."
Despite the two losses, Henson said UNLV "... has had a stretch of games where we played as well defensively as we've ever had a team play. We were flying around, and trapping, and just not allowing any easy baskets."
FAMILIAR NAMES: On the UNLV staff with K-State ties are head coach Lon Kruger, assistants Steve Henson and Greg Grensing, plus director of basketball operations Mike Shepherd.
Kruger owns a 147-64 coaching record in Las Vegas, now in his seventh season with the program.
IN THE FUTURE: The 42-year-old Henson has had stops as an assistant coach at South Florida, Illinois and now UNLV for a total of 14 coaching years after a six-year playing career in the NBA.
Asked about his hopes of becoming a head coach, he said, "Sure, if the right opportunity comes along, but I certainly don't sit around thinking about it. I'm in a great place now. We play in a great atmosphere and its 70-degrees in Vegas right now, so I'm in a great situation."