If Kansas State has any hope for salvaging a season that is slowly slipping away, the road starts in Ames, Iowa.
The Wildcats are 9-13 overall and 2-7 at the halfway point of their Big 12 schedule. But a more favorable second-half slate gets underway at 7 p.m. Saturday when they take on a similarly struggling Iowa State team (9-13, 2-7) at Hilton Coliseum.
Four of K-State's remaining nine games come against Iowa State and Oklahoma State, which share the bottom of the standings with the Wildcats.
"I'd rather play that than West Virginia twice and Kansas twice and Baylor twice," said K-State coach Bruce Weber, whose Wildcats already have finished their season series with West Virginia and Oklahoma, splitting both. "We're not playing the top half four times down the stretch — we've got some games on the bottom half — but it doesn't matter until you go win.
"Saturday would be a nice start to that."
Iowa State has dropped six of its last seven games, including four in a row.
"They're a little bit like us," Weber said.
Junior guard Mike McGuirl said back-to-back games with Iowa State and then at home Tuesday against Iowa State should give the Wildcats renewed hope for the stretch run.
"I wouldn't necessarily say optimism, but it's more like an opportunity, and we still have a couple of teams we haven't played, so that's a couple of teams we could possibly sweep in this league," he said. "The first just starts with winning this next game.
"We're really focused on going to Iowa State and getting this next win."
Their league record notwithstanding, the Wildcats insist that they're getting better.
"We've made a lot of strides, but I don't think we're where we want to be," said senior forward Makol Mawien, who has put together his best stretch of the season over the past five games, averaging better than eight points and eight rebounds. "This game's really important and all we can do is focus on the game plan and try to execute to the best of our abilities."
It all starts with defense, according to McGuirl.
"Just noticing on the road in the Big 12 you've got to be able to withstand runs," he said. "Teams get going, get the crowd into it on their home court, and you've just got to weather the storm and weather their runs.
"Instead of it being 12-2, try to limit it to 8-2 when they go on their runs. Just being solid and stay the course throughout the game."
"It always helps to have some shots go in, but if it doesn't you've still got to keep fighting," he said. "They've just got to keep grinding, grinding, and like last year (a victory at Iowa State), just find a way to win.
"Look at the scores at West Virginia. They've killed everybody, and it definitely was not a game that was out of reach. Now can we find that identity? I guess it's better late than never."
K-State lost 66-57 last Saturday at West Virginia.
Iowa State has one of the league's top guards in sophomore Tyrese Haliburton, who averages 15.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, plus sophomore transfer Rasir Bolton with 15.4 points a game. Xavier Sneed leads K-State with 14.8 points.