MANHATTAN (TNS) — Bruce Weber doesn’t know when Kamau Stokes or Dean Wade will be healthy enough to return to Kansas State’s basketball lineup.
That was the scariest thing about the Wildcats’ 67-47 loss to the Texas Longhorns on Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum.
K-State was no match for Texas without two of its senior starters. The Wildcats made 17 of 52 shots and got blown out at home on the opening night of Big 12 action. And it’s difficult to see their fortunes improving dramatically with the lineup Weber put on the court for this one.
Barry Brown wore a shirt that read “start unknown, finish unforgettable” to the postgame news conference. If K-State continues to play as poorly as it did against Texas, especially on offense, the Wildcats may do the exact opposite. A season that began with lofty expectations is now filled with uncertainty.
“It’s frustrating knowing we could have done better,” Brown said after scoring eight points on 10 shots. “We know we’re a better defensive team than we showed in the second half and a better offensive team than we showed the whole game. We just have to get better, watch film, execute and learn from this experience. It’s just sad to lose by 20 at home.”
Few saw a loss like this coming, even with both Stokes (11.1 points) and Wade (13.6 points) sidelined with foot injuries.
At full strength, the Wildcats (10-3, 0-1 Big 12) would be obvious favorites over the Longhorns (9-4, 1-0 Big 12), especially on their home floor. Without Wade, who has missed the past two weeks, they seemed to have a slight advantage. But things shifted toward Texas when Stokes aggravated a nagging injury of his own.
When will he return? For now, Weber is unable to answer. He said Stokes spent the weekend in a walking boot and felt too much soreness to play on Wednesday. It also seems unlikely he will play on Saturday against Texas Tech. There’s a chance he’s back shortly after. There’s a chance he’s not.
Weber was non committal.
“I just hope and pray for his sake that he is able to finish the season,” Weber said, “and have a great senior year.”
Wade is expected back at some point over the next five weeks, but his health status is also a mystery.
That’s not good for the Wildcats. They needed someone to step up in their place against the Longhorns and it didn’t happen.
Barry Brown was held scoreless during the first half and didn’t make his first shot until nearly 22 minutes into the game. He finished with eight points, but also lost six turnovers. Cartier Diarra didn’t make a single three-pointer and failed to impact things the way he did a year ago when Stokes injured. And Mike McGuirl was a no-show in his first start, scoring five points in 30 minutes.
Makol Mawien was the only K-State player to reach double figures, scoring 13 points, and even he seemed lost on offense much of the night.
Thanks to a suffocating defense, the Wildcats were able to keep things close at halftime and trailed 25-22. But then the Longhorns found their offensive rhythm and pulled away. Jase Febres made 7 of 9 shots from three-point range and made it impossible for K-State to mount a comeback.
Texas won by such a large margin that it’s actually hard for K-State to blame the loss on injuries.
Texas coach Shaka Smart stressed the importance of slowing down Xavier Sneed and Brown, and the Longhorns did exactly that.
Something has to change for K-State to avoid a similar fate in future games. It’s unclear what the short-term fix might be, but it might feature more urgency on half-court sets and better shot selection. The Wildcats were content to slow the pace down and take mid-range shots deep into possessions against Texas.
It didn’t work.
“We have got to find something offensively where we get that ball moving and we have got to finish, too,” Weber said. “We had some opportunities, we had some open shots, we had some shots at the hoop. It was a physical game, not many free throws. You have got to finish at the hoop.”
“It’s just execution,” added Brown.
K-State’s problems seem to run deeper than that. A year ago, injuries galvanized the Wildcats. Diarra stepped up without Stokes in the lineup and the team found new ways to keep winning. McGuirl and Mawien kicked things up a notch when Wade went down in the NCAA Tournament and the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight.
On Wednesday, the they got 41 points from their starters and six from their bench.
K-State had just enough offense to win 10 nonconference games, but it will need more of a scoring punch to win in the Big 12. Finding one will be a challenge for as long as Stokes and Wade are out.