It’s a simple thing, really, but Kansas State basketball coach Bruce Weber didn’t want to downplay its significance.
Recently, his team went bowling together. It was fun. Lots of laughs, lots of bad rolls.
“Last year, we weren’t in this place,” Weber said. “It’s a good place. We enjoy being around each other, the team is more fun to coach. We’ve got some mojo.”
Mojo to go with a 10-2 record headed into K-State’s Big 12 opener on Saturday morning against West Virginia (11-1) at Bramlage Coliseum. It’s a far cry from last season, when K-State limped out of nonconference play with a 7-6 record and into Stillwater, Okla., where the Wildcats were served a 61-47 loss to Oklahoma State that served as a portent to what was to come.
It was against Oklahoma State where Weber first pulled star guard Marcus Foster from the starting lineup. Foster spent most of the game at the end of the bench, disinterested and surly, the Wildcats finished 15-17 and Foster led a mass exodus of players leaving the program.
“I guess, you know, the biggest difference is we’re going into Big 12 play with a clear mind,” said K-State junior guard Wesley Iwundu, who leads the team in scoring at 13.3 points. “There’s not so much stuff going on off the court, away from basketball. Nothing to take away our focus level, nothing to distract us from moving forward.”
Weber said Iwundu has taken him to task for mentioning last year’s struggles too much.
“Wes kind of reprimanded me a couple of times for making comparisons to last year or whatever,” Weber said. “Last year, (the start of Big 12 play) was a turning point in the wrong direction for us. We lost at Oklahoma State, recovered a little bit and then things went south.”
Weber and Iwundu both kept going back to Big 12 play being “another level” and making sure it was understood by all exactly what that meant.
“We obviously need great focus, great intensity,” Weber said. “Obviously our league was good two years ago, then it got better last year ... and I think it might be even better now. We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves on Saturday. How will you deal with a press-breaker against West Virginia when you get tired? That’s a huge test.”
Consistency has been key for K-State, which has fielded the same starting lineup for all 12 games.
“We stay in the gym, we stay focused and stay together,” K-State guard Kamau Stokes said. “I don’t feel like (West Virginia) is a test, I feel like it’s another game we have to win, and to do that it starts with what we do in practice and making plays and making shots.”
West Virginia at Kansas State
- When: 11 a.m. Saturday
- Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
- Records: WVU 11-1, 0-0 Big 12; KSU 10-2, 0-0
- Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM
- TV: ESPNU
West Virginia at Kansas State
Daxter Miles Jr.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers are on a four-game winning streak after winning 88-63 at Virginia Tech on Wednesday. Senior forward Jonathan Holton already has four double-doubles, but doesn’t lead the team in rebounding and isn’t even one of the three West Virginia players who averaged in double-figure scoring. Off the bench, guards Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip are both capable of putting up big numbers.
Kansas State: The steady play of Stokes has been an unexpected benefit for K-State. The freshman guard from Baltimore has helped steady the Wildcats’ backcourt and answered one of the biggest questions on the roster. Running the offense, Stokes has started all 12 games and averages 9.3 points, 3.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds. “I think a lot of people, a lot of fans and media, really wondered what was going to happen at point guard,” Weber said. “And he’s been the answer. I think he’ll tell you he has a lot of work left to do, but we’re very happy with what he’s done so far.”