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No time for Kansas State to savor March Madness win with Kentucky looming in Round 2

Wichita Eagle 3/18/2023 Kellis Robinett, The Wichita Eagle

Mar. 18—Greensboro, N.C.

Jerome Tang likes to reward his team whenever the Kansas State Wildcats win a basketball game away from home.

It doesn't matter what city they are in or what team they just beat, he always goes out of his way to find a place for K-State players to eat a tasty dessert.

Call it a new tradition. Sometimes the Wildcats go out for ice cream, sometimes they eat cookies and sometimes they devour doughnuts. The sweet treat changes. The victory celebration remains the same.

The only exception: When K-State wins a NCAA Tournament game that ends after midnight and the team needs to begin preparing for another game that will start in roughly 36 hours.

"We probably don't get dessert after this one," K-State forward Keyontae Johnson said after scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds in a 77-65 win over Montana State. "I mean, it's 12:40 in the morning right now. Way too late."

In general, K-State wasn't able to savor its first NCAA Tournament victory in five years as much as it would have under normal circumstances. That's what happens when a much more challenging contest looms against No. 6 seed Kentucky at 1:40 p.m. on Sunday.

The team danced to rap music immediately following the game. Tykei Greene screamed with excitement after he slapped a Kansas State sticker on a huge March Madness bracket inside Greensboro Coliseum, signifying the team's advancement to the Round of 32. And assistant coach Jareem Dowling welcomed media to the team's locker room by loudly declaring that "business is booming."

But then a matter-of-fact tone swept over the room.

Desi Sills, who played 32 minutes against the Bobcats, submerged his body in a tub filled with icy water. So did Markquis Nowell (37 minutes) and then Keyontae Johnson (39 minutes).

"We didn't really celebrate after this win," Johnson said. "Coach is going to take us back to the hotel. Maybe we will celebrate a little more there. But the big thing is we need to get in the ice tub, stay off our feet and get ready for tomorrow."

Instead of ice cream, the Wildcats celebrated with ice baths.

Whatever it takes to get ready for a difficult matchup against Kentucky.

"Their name speaks for itself," K-State forward Ismael Massoud said. "Kentucky is a blue blood, right up there with Duke and everybody else at the top of college basketball."

For the third time in the past decade, K-State and Kentucky will meet in the NCAA Tournament in a battle of Wildcat supremacy.

As always, it should be a challenging matchup for both sides.

K-State will wear white uniforms as the No. 3 seed in this contest, but the oddsmakers favor Kentucky by 1 1/2 points.

Kentucky is coming off a 61-53 victory over Providence in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in which star forward Oscar Tshiebwe grabbed an astonishing 25 rebounds. To put that in perspective, Montana State had 27 rebounds as a team against K-State on Friday night.

This will be a very different kind of matchup than K-State faced against Montana State. John Calipari's team has talented athletes at every position. Kentucky ranks second nationally in offensive rebounds and scores the ball at a top 20 rate. But it has weaknesses on defense, which have led to some bizarre scores this season. Kentucky has impressive wins over teams like Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M but also ugly losses to teams like Georgia and South Carolina.

Can Nae'Qwan Tomlin have another big game against Tshiebwe? Can Nowell keep dishing out assists at an elite level?

Based on the fan turnout from Friday, Kentucky should benefit from a big crowd advantage at Greensboro Coliseum. That could have an impact on a K-State team that has often struggled away from home this season.

One thing is for sure, Tang won't be intimidated by the Kentucky brand.

"This won't be my first time playing against Kentucky," Tang said. "We broke their 55-game streak when I was at Baylor at Rupp Arena. And the other two teams we played them at a neutral site we won. I understand how the Cats travel but our Cats travel, too."

Most of the details about the Kentucky/K-State matchup were unknown to Tang and his staff early Saturday morning. They put all their focus on beating Montana State. Now it's on to the Kentucky.

Win that game and maybe K-State players will get two servings of dessert.

This story was originally published March 18, 2023, 10:00 AM.

(c)2023 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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