AMES, Iowa — Travis Ford always viewed this two-game close to the regular season — at Iowa State Wednesday and Saturday's home finale against Kansas State — as pivotal.
“Even looking at it preseason,” the Cowboys' coach said.
That was before Oklahoma State would emerge from back-to-back disappointing seasons to the nation's No. 13 ranking.
Before a rousing landmark win at Kansas, a seven-game winning streak and just the program's third 12-win conference record (so far) since 1965.
Before anybody mentioned Marcus Smart for National Player of the Year or the Cowboys as a threat to advance deep in the NCAA Tournament.
So Ford was prophetic. Because for all his team has already accomplished, this stands as a big week for grabbing what's still out there, like a second-place finish in the Big 12 and a lofty perch for March Madness.
“We've got some ball left before the NCAA Tournament,” said OSU guard Brian Williams.
“We're playing for something every game now,” said Le'Bryan Nash.
The Cowboys, 12-4 in the Big 12, currently sit one game behind Kansas State and 1½ games behind Kansas in the league standings, with that head-to-head meeting with the Wildcats coming up Saturday. With help, OSU can still share the conference title with KU, but the Jayhawks own the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in next week's Big 12 Tournament.
The Cowboys, however, carry the tiebreaker with K-State, meaning Saturday's clash could be for the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. And that status comes with a comfortable path to the tournament semifinals, while anything less poses a stiffer challenge.
Of course, a win at Iowa State is also required.