The irony around Saturday’s contest between Kansas State and Gonzaga might be centered completely on coach Bruce Weber.
On Saturday night, hours after the Wildcats had defeated George Washington to move to 7-1 on the season, Weber’s old team Illinois was busy beating the Bulldogs, 85-74.
It was the first loss of the season for the Bulldogs, who had all but been crowned as the nation’s best team by ESPN prior to the loss.
While the Zags might not be the best team in the nation, at least record-wise, they are one of the most complete.
They feature two players that are 7-foot tall, and NBA prospect Elias Harris, who averages 16 points and eight rebounds per game. They’re also one of the leaders in the nation in field-goal percentage.
It goes without saying that the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them when it comes to playing Gonzaga, especially on the road and especially in the paint.
“They’ve got not only big people, but athleticism,” Weber said. “They’re kind of like us, they come at you in a lot of ways. They have the big 290-pound guy with length, they have some agile big guys, and then they have Harris. They’re very good.”
Weber said the Zags are a team you have to go at right away, or they can pile up points in a hurry.
“If we are tentative and stagnant they will do what they’ve done with West Virginia and Oklahoma and some of the other people,” he said. “You’ve got to play against them right from the get-go.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 65-62 win over George Washington that featured big performances from Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodrgiuez, who scored nearly half of K-State’s points in the victory.
What K-State didn’t get much out of, offensively at least, were its bigs. Past Nino Williams’ eight-point performance, much of the production down low was limited to rebounds.
Sophomore forward Thomas Gipson said the posts looked lackadaisical in the game. But he said the win did provide the team with an overall boost going forward. And it’s a boost they might need to tap into as they go on the road for the second time this season.
Weber said it all comes down to getting guys going.
“We’re starting to get Rod going, obviously if we can get (Jordan Henriguez) to play you add into the mix,” he said. “Thomas has played good, DJ (Johnson is playing) good — I keep telling the guys if they all play well it makes it easy on me. It doesn’t happen every game but it gives us more options.”
Henriquez played sparingly in the game against George Washington, coming off a game where he didn’t play at all against South Carolina Upstate due to back spasms. Henriquez said the back is feeling better now, but Weber said he encountered a different problem against the Colonials.
“His back is OK, his ankle was sprained in the game,” he said. “He sat out a little bit, they re-taped it, he gave it a gutsy effort and he came back in. He sat out Sunday and Monday, he lasted our whole practice (Wednesday) so that was positive.”
McGruder has been the Wildcat senior that’s playing the most consistent at this point, while Henriquez has struggled and Martavious Irving has seen more limited minutes and has three points in the last four games.
Weber said their future performances all come down to how they handle themselves in practice
“I want the seniors to play well, but they’ve got to do it everyday,” he said. “They’ve got to come to practice and compete and battle and it will pay off in the game.”