Weber: 'It's gut-check week' for Wildcats

1/28/2014

By ARNE GREEN

By ARNE GREEN

Special to The Telegram

MANHATTAN — Kansas State is barely a third of the way through its Big 12 schedule, coming off narrow back-to-back losses to nationally ranked opponents on the road.

Hardly a cause for panic, right?

Maybe not, but Bruce Weber has put the Wildcats on alert that the upcoming week can go a long way toward making or breaking their season.

"I told 'em it's gut-check week, there's no doubt, if you want to compete," said Weber, whose Wildcats (14-6, 4-3 Big 12) are in a five-team logjam chasing league leader Kansas and fighting for an upper-echelon spot.

The Wildcats, who dropped out of the national rankings after falling at No. 25 Texas and No. 16 Iowa State last week, are back home at Bramlage Coliseum at 7 tonight to face a Texas Tech team (10-10, 2-5) trying to fight its way to the middle of the pack.

"Like coach Weber said, this is probably the most important week of the season, because it can either go north or south," junior forward Nino Williams said of the Tech game and Saturday's visit to West Virginia, a team the Wildcats beat handily at home 10 days ago. "Usually around this time teams either go north or south and (tonight's) game is probably the biggest game of the season, to be honest.

"We're not even worried about Saturday yet. So I think (the Texas Tech) game, I would say is the biggest game of the season."

Weber agreed that the next two games are critical, but also warned against looking too far ahead.

"Right now it looks like Kansas (6-0, at the top), but a lot of craziness can happen," he said. "But you've just got to take care of Texas Tech first and then we worry about the next game."

The Wildcats need the victory as much to restore their swagger as anything, according to Williams. After a 4-1 start, they lost 67-64 on a last-second 3-pointer at Texas, then rallied to tie Iowa State late before faltering down the stretch, 81-75.

"We're feeling good but we lost two in a row and the confidence is not there," said Williams, who has been a key contributor off the bench for the Wildcats, averaging 6.6 points and 3.6 rebounds a game in league play a jump from his 5.2 and 3.0 overall stats. "We just need a win to feel good — a feel-good win.

"I don't feel we lost confidence, but losing is kind of different from winning. You feel good about yourself and when you lose you have doubts."

Playing in front of a friendly crowd might be just the ticket.

"It's just tough when you lose and you lost close games," Weber said. "Both teams are in the top 25 and you went on the road and you were close and that's what kind of eats at your gut, that you didn't get it done.

"You hope that the energy coming home and the students back here and just getting our guys excited (will) get us over the hump and headed in the right direction again."

That begins with tonight, said junior forward Thomas, who ranks second on the team in scoring with 12.1 points a game and leads in rebounds with a 6.2 average.

"I feel like it's very important, just like any other game," said Gipson, who had a big game with 24 points and five rebounds at Texas, but managed just four points with seven boards against Iowa State. "We've always talked about just keeping one game at a time and for the past few games we've failed, so we've just got to get it back on track.

"It starts (tonight) against Texas Tech and will go back to Saturday against West Virginia."

Texas Tech has dropped two straight but did knock off a ranked Baylor team as well as last-place TCU. Senior forward Jaye Crockett leads the Red Raiders with 14.3 points a game, and at 6-foot-4 averages 6.2 rebounds, while junior forward Jordan Tolbert adds 12 points and a team-high 6.4 boards.

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