SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Technically, Saturday was an off day at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The tournament is run by ESPN, which wants to keep its Saturday schedule open for college football. So teams have traditionally used the day to enjoy the sand and surf of San Juan, where it was sunny with temperatures in the 80s.
But there was no day at the beach for the Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday. Not after they lost their first two games in this tournament, and often looked lackluster in doing so. K-State coach Bruce Weber said that Saturday was nothing more than a regular prep day for the Wildcats, who close out the tournament by playing Long Beach State at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.
“We don’t have school next week, so we’re staying here Monday,” Weber said. “After (Sunday’s) game they can enjoy the island, if they play at a high level and do what they’re supposed to. They have to realize that this is for real. This is no stuff where it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, because it does matter.”
Weber was especially upset at the way his team appeared to be pushed around in Friday’s 90-63 second-round loss to Georgetown. Weber used the word “very” eight times in a row in describing how physical the game was against the Hoyas, and he said the Wildcats did not respond well.
“It starts at practice, to compete harder at practice,” Weber said. “That’s where you make progress. We played a team (in Georgetown) that plays hard with more physical ability, and we didn’t react to it very well. That’s where it starts, realizing that you have to play hard every day at practice.”
One of the few bright spots in the tournament has been the return to the court of junior forward Thomas Gipson, who missed the first three games of the season with an injury. Gipson played 24 minutes against Georgetown, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds.
“Thomas needed to get going,” Weber said. “He can score inside. He gives us another threat. We need Thomas to play well if we’re going to have a chance to compete with the top-level teams that have size.”
Despite starting the season 2-3, Gipson said there is still plenty of time for the Wildcats to turn things around.
“We just have to stick together,” he said. “We just have to use these losses as learning lessons for the future.”
If that doesn’t happen soon, Weber indicated there could be some major changes coming in the lineup.
“The only way we’re going to be successful, which we still can be, is to do the little things,” Weber said. “If we don’t take pride in little things, whether it’s boxing out or screening or making the extra pass, we’re going to struggle all year. They have to figure it out. If they don’t wake up, then we’re going to have to play other guys.”