Kansas State showing maturity down stretch

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas State's season has been an exercise in maturity.

There are times the Wildcats play with a veteran savvy, the kind of rugged toughness preached by coach Frank Martin. And there are times they look soft and weak, like a bunch of kids who still need to figure out how to play at the highest level.

"It's something we want to improve on, game by game," associate head coach Brad Underwood said. "That is all we try to achieve and try to get out of our guys every day."

The Wildcats (20-9, 9-8) are tied with Texas for fifth in the Big 12, which carries some significance for seeding in next week's conference tournament. The teams split their two meetings this season, so a lot is riding on Saturday's games.

Kansas State hosts Oklahoma State while the Longhorns visit No. 3 Kansas.

"We approach every game the same way," Underwood said. "The one thing we've done consistently over the time we have been here is that no game is a must-win and every game is important.

"Every time we turn around, we hear someone say that it is an important game. They are all important in league play," he added. "We want to send our seniors out on the right note because they have been huge parts of this program for the last four years. We want to do it for them, but we are going to approach this like any other game."

The only seniors on the roster, Jamar Samuels and Victor Ojeleye, will be honored during their final home game Saturday. Both have been integral parts of the team.

Ojeleye has never averaged more than 8 minutes over his entire career, but he's often sparked the team off the bench, and the way he maximizes his ability has endeared him to many.

Samuels scores just over 10 points a game for the Wildcats.

"I can't really explain it. It's gone by so fast. I remember walking into here like any 17-year-old, just looking around and thinking I could do whatever I wanted. I didn't have my mom waking me up anymore," Samuels said. "It just felt different.

"I told a few guys at Texas A&M that I feel like the old guy in the hourglass, and time is ticking," he said. "I am just trying to get this team as far as I can."

He should have a chance to take Kansas State deep into the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats have virtually assured themselves a berth. They knocked off No. 7 Missouri twice -- the only visitors to win at Mizzou Arena this season -- and also managed to get past ninth-ranked Baylor on the road a couple weeks ago.

Those were the instances when the Wildcats showed poise, patience and rugged toughness.

In other words: some maturity.

There are have also been plenty of times they've shown immaturity, such as losing at home to Iowa State after a confidence-building win at Missouri. Or the pair of games the Wildcats lost to Oklahoma, which has managed just two other conference victories all season.

Martin was not available to the media this week, leaving Underwood to address questions about the team's growth, its position heading into next week's conference tournament, and the Wildcats' home finale on Saturday against the Cowboys.

Underwood acknowledges it will be poignant.

"You get pretty emotional when you start talking about guys that have been big parts of the program," Underwood said. "I don't look at it as the time they have been here because it goes by so quickly. They impact my life as a coach and they impact the university.

"It's so fun to see them come in as kids, leave as grown men and be responsible for that."

In the end, maybe that's the maturity that matters the most.