MANHATTAN — With a 68-52 loss to Gonzaga still fresh in their minds, Kansas State basketball players will take the court against Texas Southern on Tuesday with two priorities.
The Wildcats want to win, and they want to break out of their recent scoring slump.
If they can do both, K-State guard Angel Rodriguez thinks they will be ready for the more-anticipated game this week, against No. 8 Florida on Saturday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
“We’ve got to get better offensive-wise,” said Rodriguez, a sophomore guard. “It’s a long season, though. We’ve just got to watch film and continue to get better. It’s a long season, we’ve got good teams in the Big 12 and we’ve still got a couple games before the Big 12 starts. It’s not over yet.”
But a sense of urgency is starting to sink in. K-State coach Bruce Weber hoped the Wildcats would have adjusted to his motion offense by now. But that isn’t the case against formidable defenses. Though they are averaging 79.4 points and hitting 48.2 percent of their shots at Bramlage Coliseum against small-conference opponents, those numbers are much lower away from home.
In four games on neutral or road courts, K-State is averaging 60 points and shooting 36 percent. Struggling offense was a common thread in its losses to No. 2 Michigan and No. 14 Gonzaga, but they reached season lows against the Bulldogs on Saturday in Seattle. The Wildcats scored 52 points and connected on 33.3 percent of shots. They also turned the ball over 18 times.
No wonder it was the most lopsided loss of the year.
“I made a stupid mistake the first play of the game,” said sophomore forward Thomas Gipson, who scored four points and committed three turnovers. “I throw it right to the defender. I should have known they were going to post trap me. Simple mistakes really cost us the game.”
Without so many giveaways, K-State would have been in better position. But it still might not have won. It couldn’t match Gonzaga inside.
Senior forward Jordan Henriquez, who many expected to be an all-conference player this season, had another poor game. He was held scoreless in 10 minutes, despite catching the ball in good scoring position early. DJ Johnson and Adrian Diaz combined for eight points and three turnovers. And Nino Williams missed the second half with an inured right shoulder.
Leading scorer Rodney McGruder was kept in check on the inside and the perimeter. He scored four points and committed five turnovers.
What needs to change for that group to start producing on a consistent basis? Plenty.
“We probably don’t screen as well as we need to to help (McGruder) get open, but he’s also got to shoot open shots when he has opportunities,” Weber said. “… We don’t make the next read. Sometimes the screener is open. Sometimes the cutter is open. It can be a set, it can be transition, it can be motion, but we have to get to the point where we are making the next play. They fought one way, we’re wide open, but we’ve got to make that pass to get easy points.”
The good news is K-State has defended well. It hasn’t allowed more than 71 points, and if that continues, incremental improvements on offense should lead to more victories.
“We defend well enough, but you can’t break down,” Weber said. “It’s a long season. A lot can happen. We have just got to go back and keep getting better and hopefully get over the hump sooner than later.”
Players think they are close offensively, and point to quality scoring opportunities against Gonzaga as proof. If not for sloppy play and some bad decisions, they say the final score would have looked better.
“We just have to continue to get better,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know how long it will take us, but I wouldn’t expect it to take a while. This is basically the same team as last year.”
Texas Southern, losers of seven in a row, offers an opportunity for them to experiment and learn. But the Wildcats need to take advantage. Big 12 play isn’t that far away.