KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Until late Wednesday night, Kansas State didn’t know what team it would be playing in the second round of the NCAA Championship on Friday.
As it turns out, K-State’s opponent, La Salle, looks a little like some of the teams the Wildcats have already seen this season.
K-State (27-7) will open play Friday afternoon at 2:10 from the Sprint Center against the Explorers (22-9), a team that many of the Wildcats’ players compared to Texas Southern, among others the fourth-seeded Wildcats faced in non-conference play earlier this season.
Wildcats’ coach Bruce Weber said the 13-seed Explorers also look a little like Iowa State.
“It’s a lot like when we play Iowa State,” Weber said during a press conference Thursday at the Sprint Center. “You have to worry about the three, but you really have to worry about layups. We have to limit the number of layups they get, then stay in front.”
La Salle defeated Boise State 80-71 in a play-in game Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio, and they did so by knocking down 11 3-pointers.
K-State senior guard Rodney McGruder said the Explorers’ offense tends to go smaller than most teams.
“They have four guards that do a tremendous job of spreading you out and dribble-drive,” he said. “If you go big, it’s hard to guard because their four-man is really a two-guard. If you go with two big guys, it’s hard for that four to actually get out and guard on the wing.
“They try to catch you slipping almost. They penetrate, flip back for 3s and things like that.”
McGruder said the team gathered together Wednesday night to watch the game and scout La Salle. Senior forward Jordan Henriquez said K-State is prepared for all possibilities on Friday.
“Our coaches did a really good job of preparing us for both teams, what kind of sets they run and everything like that,” he said. “Just be prepared. That’s what we did a good job at.”
Often when the Wildcats have faced a smaller team this season, Henriquez has been left out of the mix because of more versatile forwards on the other end. The Explorers have one forward they go to in 6-foot-8, 240-pounder Jerrell Wright, whom K-State players compared to their own Thomas Gipson.
For that reason, Weber said Henriquez could play a big role in the Wildcats’ NCAA opener, televised on truTV (Cox 51).
“They do have the one big guy — he’ll stay inside — that’s a positive,” Weber said. “It’s not like when we played Iowa State where the five was shooting 3s. We hope (Henriquez) can be a backstop to our defense. They’re going to get by us, if Jordan can be a backstop to the defense and block a few shots, now they’ve got second thoughts about coming in there.”
The Wildcats are hoping to have a large crowd on Friday afternoon, playing in what is somewhat of a home atmosphere.
But Weber said his Wildcats have to be cautious of leaning on the hometown feeling too strong and remember what time of the year it is — that anything can happen.
“Playing in Kansas City, it was one of the carrots we hung out there for the guys, one of our goals, but it doesn’t guarantee you a victory,” he said. “Once the game goes, the jump ball starts, you’ve got to play basketball and you’re going to have to earn a victory against a very, very good La Salle team.”
Southwell featured by Cosmo
K-State junior forward Shane Southwell was featured by Cosmopolitan as one of its 26 Hottest Guys of March Madness.
Southwell — selected 24th — is described by the magazine as, “One tall glass of water we’d like to drink.”
Southwell joked about his appearance on the list on Thursday.
“I don’t think a lot of my teammates know, I kind of want it to be on the down low a little bit, he joked. “Angel (Rodriguez) knows — he gives me a little bit of grief about it. It’s a compliment I guess. I appreciate it, but I’m a basketball player. I feel like a piece of meat or something.”