For Kansas State, the basketball season has reached the point where games take on added meaning.
A Wednesday clash with TCU at Bramlage Coliseum is the first example.
Senior forward Thomas Gipson calls it “a must win.” Sophomore forward Wesley Iwundu says it is “the most important game of the season.”
“You have got to prepare like it is for the championship,” Weber said. “That is how we have to face every game the rest of the year, and that is how, really, you should get ready for every game. Maybe that is part of our lack of maturity and toughness. Maybe that has been one of the things that has cost us. Being ready to play is important, not only tomorrow, but also on Saturday and the next Wednesday … and whatever else is down the road.”
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The Wildcats, losers of three straight, are desperately searching for something to turn their season around. At 7-7 and 0-1 in Big 12 play, they are in jeopardy of falling below .500 in January for the first time since 2002, when they finished 13-16 under former coach Jim Wooldridge.
Answers seem hard to come by.
“Every game is so inconsistent,” Weber said. “I don’t even know who is going to play well and who is going to start and who is going to be subbing in, and that is the sad thing. We are 14 games in, and we don’t have that continuity yet. That probably has something to do with it, when we hit adversity we don’t have that continuity to get through that.”
Weber gave players the day off Sunday, and he said that led to an energetic practice Monday. Players seemed ready to build off that Tuesday.
“Everybody is buying into the system,” Iwundu said. “It was a good practice. We all competed and got after it on the offensive end and made changes. We looked pretty good.”
The biggest changes are expected out of sophomore guard Marcus Foster, the team’s leading scorer. Weber took him out of the starting lineup against Oklahoma State and he also saw limited playing time against Georgia, scoring a total of two points in those games.
Foster’s body language was discouraging throughout the Oklahoma State game, and he didn’t score. But Weber says he has responded since.
“Yesterday he went hard, which is important,” Weber said. “He came in a couple times extra for shooting to get some confidence there.”
Added Iwundu: “I just told him stay positive throughout the whole thing. I had a similar situation, so I just told him to get back on his feet and be the player he is capable of being. I don’t think his confidence is shaken. He knows that we need him to be successful. He knows what he has to do. He has been in the gym working. He is ready to get back to it.”
He may need to play well against an improved TCU. The Horned Frogs are 13-1 a year after going winless in Big 12 games.
The Wildcats are impressed. They are also ready to take on a respected opponent at home. That adds even more to the importance of this game.
“The page has flipped,” Iwundu said. “Normally, it would be TCU worrying about us. Now we are worrying about TCU. It is just a big game for us. We have to handle business.”
TCU at Kansas State
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan
Records: TCU 13-1, 0-1 Big 12; KSU 7-7, 0-1
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
TV: ESPN News (Cox 245, DirecTV 207, Dish 142, U-Verse 604)
TCU at Kansas State
TCU (13-1, 0-1): The Horned Frogs are one of the nation’s most improved teams, starting 13-1 after going winless last season in the Big 12. TCU went 13-0 in nonconference play and briefly cracked the top 25. Its top victories came against Washington State, Mississippi State and Mississippi, but its early schedule was soft. It lost its opening conference game to West Virginia at home. In past seasons, Anderson has been the team’s lone consistent scorer. This year, TCU has spread its scoring around. Anderson still leads the way, averaging 13.8 points, but seven players average 7.1 points or more.
Kansas State (7-7, 0-1): The Wildcats are off to their worst start in a decade. They haven’t sported a .500 record this late in the season since Jim Wooldridge was coach. They need a victory against TCU to avoid their first losing January record since 2002. Bruce Weber has struggled to find a consistent lineup in recent weeks. Leading scorer Marcus Foster spent most of the game on the bench against Oklahoma State and reserves were subbed in and out of the game.