Bruce Weber knows full well that he can't look down his Kansas State bench and conjure up enough scoring to replace the void left by Dean Wade and now Kamau Stokes.
So while they anxiously await the return of their senior leaders, the Wildcats have made a point of excelling at the opposite end of the floor, becoming one of the Big 12's elite defensive teams.
"We talked about being a little better defensively, giving us a chance," said Weber, whose Wildcats face their first conference road test at 1 p.m. Saturday when they face No. 11-ranked Texas Tech at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. "They (Texas Tech) have been good defensively and we've been pretty good defensively."
The Wildcats, 10-3, were good enough defensively for much of their Big 12 opener Wednesday night before Texas went on a 3-point shooting spree down the stretch to prevail, 67-47. They still rank second in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 58.5 points per game.
Trouble is, Texas Tech (12-1, 1-0) is even better on that end, allowing a conference-best 52.8 points per game while ranking in the middle of the pack offensively at 74.3. And the Red Raiders, who opened Big 12 play Wednesday with a 62-59 victory at West Virginia, feature one of the top players in the league in sophomore guard Jarrett Culver.
Culver averages 19.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
"Chris has done a great job," Weber said of Tech coach Chris Beard, who has rebuilt his roster this year with the help of graduate transfers Tariq Owens (St. John's), a 6-foot-10 forward, and guard Matt Mooney (South Dakota). "He's gotten them to buy into guarding. They're defending as well as anybody in the country."
Wade, K-State's 6-10 conference preseason player of the year, is now out of the walking boot on his injured foot. But he's still at least a couple of weeks away from returning to the court, according to Weber.
The prognosis for Stokes, who aggravated an old foot injury during last Saturday's victory over George Mason, remains uncertain. Weber said it's the same foot in which he suffered a stress fracture and missed part of last season, then later tweaked against Georgia State two weeks ago.
Wade leads the team in scoring with 13.6 points per game and rebounding with 7.8, while Stokes adds 11.1 points and a team-high 3.3 assists.
"It's more how can you score," Weber said. "(Texas Tech isn't) scoring that much, but you've got to figure out a way to score, and at the same time you've got to limit their easy hoops and make them earn stuff.
"They grind out games. With our offensive struggles, we've just got to find a way to get some easy looks and make them."
Much of the scoring burden now falls on senior guard Barry Brown, an all-Big 12 preseason pick who is averaging 13.5 points a game and junior Xavier Sneed (11.3 ppg, 5.7 rebounds). Forward Makol Mawien, the only big man remaining in the Wildcats' four-guard starting lineup, led the team with 13 points against Texas.
But without the 25 points a game provided by Wade and Stokes, a solid defensive effort against Texas Tech remains vital.
"It's more important," Brown said. "Without them, everybody's got to pick it up a notch.
"(The key on offense is) just to finish around the basket, make open shots and execute."