Senior guard Brian Rohleder has been a member of three Kansas State basketball teams that reached the NCAA Tournament and one that shared a Big 12 championship, yet he talks as if he will remember this roster more fondly than any of those groups.
Why? It’s a fair question, considering the Wildcats aren’t nearly as successful now as they were in his early years. But if you watched the Wildcats practice this season, Rohleder says, you wouldn’t have to ask.
“Everybody has the same goal in mind and everybody is bought into the team, which is why I love this team so much,” Rohleder said. “We do not stop fighting. We have had a lot of heartbreaks, and a lot of other teams could have easily quit and not showed up to practice, but I will give it to this team. We have stuck together and continue to fight through it.”
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The fight continues at 2 p.m. Saturday against Texas Tech at United Supermarkets Arena. A victory would significantly boost K-State’s hopes of reaching the NIT and send the Wildcats, 16-14, 5-12 Big 12, into the Big 12 tournament on a winning streak.
They are coming off their most dominant victory of the season, a 79-54 victory Wednesday against TCU, which coach Bruce Weber could sense was on the horizon. Sure, K-State had lost three in a row and five of its last six, but its practices were better than ever.
“I told you guys we had great practices,” Weber said. “Monday was probably the best practice of the year. Tuesday was pretty good, and that is how they played. My dad told me a long time ago, ‘You play as you practice,’ and they practice well.”
Weber has been preaching effort and teamwork all season, promising as far back as June that K-State would be a better team than it was a year ago, even though its roster lacked experience and proven talent. The wins haven’t always been there, particularly in close games — the Wildcats are 0-8 in Big 12 games decided by 10 points or fewer — but the effort has.
“We have been working hard,” Rohleder said. “We had a great practice (Monday), and everybody is still staying together. I mean, it’s 180 from last year. If we had the team from last year, we would be split in a million different directions. But our team this year has just worked so hard and stayed together.”
Now they hope to put it all together by winning consecutive games for the first time since conference play began.
“We have not been able to come back after big wins and play well the following game this year,” Weber said. “If we come back with energy and emotion, we should have a good chance moving forward.”
It won’t be easy against a rising opponent such as Texas Tech, which appears on its way to the NCAA Tournament and has won four straight at home.
The Red Raiders will be favored, but the Wildcats like their chances based on recent practices.
“We are just trying to get this thing rolling,” senior forward Stephen Hurt said, “headed into the Big 12 tournament and Texas Tech this weekend, which is another big game, a high RPI team. It would be another great win for us.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett