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.”
K-State coach Bruce Weber agrees with both assessments.
“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.”
The Wildcats, losers of three straight, are desperately searching for something to turn their season around. At 7-7 overall 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 played sparingly 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.”
Iwundu added: “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 team, which is 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.”