KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It had all the characteristics of a second-round NCAA Tournament game, with one fortunate exception for the Kansas State Wildcats.
Their 63-59 Big 12 Tournament loss to Iowa State in the Sprint Center on Friday night had no dire consequences. Instead of calling it a season, the Wildcats simply packed up their gear and headed back to Manhattan to await their next assignment.
Everything else was there: the neutral court, screaming fans on both sides and all the drama you could hope for in a survive-and-advance matchup.
"Great atmosphere — their fans, our fans — and great competition," K-State senior guard Kamau Stokes said. "But we play in atmospheres like this the whole year, and going into the tournament (we're) not overwhelmed.
"We know what to expect and we've just got to come out and compete."
Despite the loss and without the services of injured all-conference forward Dean Wade, the Wildcats did compete in Kansas City. They rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit against Iowa State and led by five with under two minutes to go, only to be gunned down by a pair of dagger 3-pointers from the Cyclones' Marial Shayok.
The good news is, as of Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats (25-8) appeared to be positioned for the NCAA Tournament as a solid No. 4 seed when the bracket is announced Sunday. Bracketologists Joe Lunardi, of ESPN, and CBS' Jerry Palm both had K-State at No. 4 in the East Regional and starting their journey out west in San Jose.
Lunardi had the Wildcats opening against No. 13 seed Vermont, while Palm matched them against Liberty, though they agreed that the next test would be Villanova at No. 5, with the winner of that game advancing to the regional semifinals in Washington, D.C.
K-State coach Bruce Weber agreed that a suddenly-rejuvenated Iowa State team clearly gave their game an NCAA feel.
"They seem to have it together, playing at a high level," Weber said of the Cyclones, who split their two regular-season games with K-State. "But our guys, we've been consistent. We've been soldiers, and you've got to really come out and play every game in the NCAA Tournament.
"You can't have another sad meeting — it will be over — and that would be really sad for those seniors."
Speaking of the seniors, Weber sounded more upbeat Friday night about the chances of having Wade back this week. Wade, who missed six games in December and January with a partially torn tendon in his high right foot, reinjured it in the March 9 regular-season finale against Oklahoma and did not participate in the Big 12 Tournament.
"He said it feels better," Weber said. "(Friday) it doesn't hurt as much (and) we'll get back home and do treatment.
"He joked with me, he said, 'Coach, I did treatment for eight hours today.' I don't know if he did, but he's just got to do treatment (Saturday) and see how he feels."
Weber added that besides giving Wade more time to heal, the few days of rest before the start of the NCAA Tournament should provide some welcome relief for senior Barry Brown and junior Xavier Sneed, among others.
"I think it's huge, more than anybody (for) Barry," Weber said of his all-Big 12 guard. "Just to get his legs. It will be good for Xavier. I don't know how many different things he's got boogered up. He needs two weeks rest, but we can't do that, so maybe four days of rest will help him."
One positive to come out of the Big 12 Tournament run, which started with a 70-61 victory over TCU on Thursday, was the triumphant return of guard Cartier Diarra. Diarra had missed the last eight regular-season games with a broken finger, but came off the bench to play 29 minutes with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in the quarterfinals, then started and played 34 minutes against Iowa State and led the Wildcats with 15 points.
But from here on out, there are no second chances for the Wildcats or for anyone else.
"We don't want to put ourselves in that position again," Stokes said after the Wildcats trailed at halftime against both TCU and Iowa State. "Going into the NCAA Tournament, you don't want to be down 10."
That said, the Iowa State game certainly showed the Wildcats what they're likely to face the rest of the way.
"It was a great venue here in Kansas City and there were a lot of great fans that came out for both sides," said Sneed, who had 11 points and seven rebounds against the Cyclones. "It was a great feel, great game, and it's a great feel for going into the NCAA Tournament and how it's going to be."