Bruce Weber has coached college basketball in some form since 1979 without a year off, but he can’t remember the last time he was down three scholarship players.
“To be honest, I don’t know if any of our teams have been through this,” Weber, the Kansas State coach, said Friday. “Our walk-ons have saved us. We are fortunate our guys have kept battling.”
First came the loss of freshman forward Isaiah Maurice, who was ruled academically ineligible before the season. Then Dante Williams, another freshman forward, couldn’t stay healthy and decided to redshirt. Now starting point guard Kamau Stokes is sidelined indefinitely as he recovers from knee surgery.
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Weber said the procedure went well, revealing that Stokes’ knee was in better shape than doctors originally presumed. Still, it his “highly unlikely” Stokes returns this season.
Men’s college basketball teams are allowed 13 scholarship players, but K-State has nine after opening the season with 12. One of those nine, Brian Rohleder, is a former walk-on.
Weber refuses to point to the roster casualties as an excuse. Instead, he says they are an opportunity for K-State’s healthy players. He is looking for several players to step up, none more than senior guard Justin Edwards.
Edwards started strong, averaging as many as 18 points, 6.7 rebounds and four assists during nonconference play and leading K-State in many other statistical categories. But his scoring average has dipped to 11.5 along with his production.
“More than anything he hasn’t shot it very well,” Weber said of Edwards. “But he has got to guard and rebound, too. Those were the things he was doing so well early in the year and the things everyone was complimenting him for. He was so active in so many ways.”
Weber singled out Edwards following a 77-59 loss at Kansas on Wednesday after Edwards contributed two points. He said he challenged Edwards in the locker room. With Carlbe Ervin, Barry Brown and Wesley Iwundu spending more time directing the offense in place of Stokes, Edwards needs to provide a scoring punch.
“This last stretch he just hasn’t had it,” Weber said. “I don’t know if it’s his senior year and it means so much. He just got a little tentative. I don’t know what it is, but he has got to pick it up in terms of intensity. That is my main thing. If he does that the other things will come. He has to get his motor going.”
K-State will need everything Edwards can provide on Saturday against No. 1 Oklahoma. The Sooners beat the Wildcats 86-76 behind 31 points from Buddy Hield when they played last month, and Oklahoma has only gotten better since.
There is no better shooting team in college basketball. Oklahoma averages 46.2 percent from three-point range.
“The way they shoot the ball is amazing,” Weber said. “They are going to score, we just have to make them work for points by limiting their easy looks.”
Weber thinks the Wildcats, even at less than full strength, can stay with the Sooners.
“The other night, for 35 minutes, we were right there with Kansas,” Weber said. “We just had five awful minutes. The effort is there. Somehow we have to get over that hump of allowing those spurts. That will be very important against Oklahoma, because they are so explosive.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett