With an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament seemingly out of reach, Kansas State must search for new sources of motivation as it prepares for the final three games of college basketball’s regular season.
The Wildcats could rally around a number of possibilities, such as securing a winning record, earning a spot in the NIT or simply building momentum before the Big 12 Tournament. Any or all would suffice.
“I’m not talking about next year. I am talking about this year. I want to finish on a positive note,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “I want it for these guys. They deserve it, and hopefully some good things happen. We have got to make it happen, though.”
The journey continues on Saturday at Iowa State, followed by a home game against TCU and a road game against Texas Tech. The Wildcats figure to be favored against the Horned Frogs, and underdogs elsewhere. It’s a difficult closing schedule for a team that has lost four of five and hasn’t won consecutive games since December.
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A frustrating 71-70 loss to Texas on Monday won’t help. Players seemed depressed afterward. Senior guard Justin Edwards described it as a heart breaker. Junior forward D.J. Johnson called it tough.
They had been there before, and that may have been what hurt the most. K-State has lost five conference games by less than three points or in overtime. At 15-13 and 4-11 in the Big 12, K-State sits in eighth place of the league standings. It hasn’t finished worse than sixth since 2006.
“We get just half of those games then we are 18-10 and we are in the NCAA Tournament,” Weber said. “It’s no doubt with our schedule. But we aren’t. Now, I hope for these guys and their persistence and their heart and their courage that some good things happen down the stretch. That is all you can do, keep coming back. And they keep coming back.”
Weber points to the “better team” rallying cry he started during the offseason, when he replaced the majority of K-State’s roster with new personnel.
“They are great kids,” Weber said. “They enjoy each other, I think they like our staff, maybe they will tell you something different behind closed doors. We enjoy each other. They play hard, they are a fun group, fun to coach. It has been good since last spring.”
A few adjustments could help K-State win some of its final three games. Edwards is coming on, having scored 11 or more points in six straight games. Johnson is becoming a force down low. They helped the Wildcats fight back against Texas and Kansas. A third scorer or additional poise could make the difference in K-State’s next close game.
The Wildcats aren’t going down without a fight.
“My last college games are coming up, so I am just trying to leave it all out there,” Edwards said. “Coach always tells us to play with no regrets, so I am just trying to do that and leave a bit of a legacy here and just know that I play hard and that I love K-State.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett