‘We’ll just do our best’: Shorthanded K-State set for match-up with No. 4 Texas

Senior guard Mike McGuirl charges the basket during K-State’s game against Texas last season on Feb. 22, 2020. The Longhorns defeated the Wildcats 70-59. (Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

The Kansas State men’s basketball team (5-8, 1-4 Big 12) is in a pickle. With COVID-19 protocols and an injury report getting thicker by the day, operations in the program are getting strategic.

After having their game against Iowa State postponed on Wednesday due to the Wildcats not having the minimum roster requirement, K-State will have their shot to get back on the court against No. 4 Texas (10-2, 4-1 Big 12) on Saturday — but not without a twist.

Much like last weekend’s game against Oklahoma State, K-State will take on the Longhorns with a shorthanded, seven-man rotation at best this weekend. Even within those seven players, the Wildcats are still banged up.

Head coach Bruce Weber elaborated on his team’s troubles during his media availability on Friday. He mentioned sophomore forward Antonio Gordon will be active after missing 21-straight days of action and sophomore combo-guard DaJuan Gordon will likely be available even after spraining his ankle against the Cowboys.

“Antonio [Gordon] came out of his protocol on Monday, he’s been able to practice for the last three days so he’ll be available,” Weber said. “[DaJuan Gordon], I’ll be completely honest, I’m not sure how he played in the game Saturday. [His ankle] was double the size. He could barely walk on Sunday, he was on crutches. … He was in practice a little bit yesterday and we’ll see how he’s doing today.”

Weber also said that freshman Luke Kasubke and sophomore Kaosi Ezeagu are both making strides in the right direction, but are still not game ready. Freshman point guard Nijel Pack will not be available for the second-straight game as well.

“We’ll have six or seven and just do our best. That’s all you can do,” Weber said.

The Wildcats will be facing an offense that shoots a very efficient 44.6 percent from the field. The Longhorns also rank third in the Big 12 Conference in rebounds and three-point percentage, as well as fourth in blocks.

Senior guard Mike McGuirl said on Friday that the team needs to do a better job of staying tough down the stretch of games — like boxing out — regardless of how many guys they have available. He thinks the team needs to play cleaner to have a chance this weekend.

“Against Oklahoma State, regardless of how many people we had, we didn’t really play well,” McGuirl said. “We watched the whole game as a team and we learned a lot from it. There was a lot of takeaways from it. … Just playing together. Just little things were off like spacing … and those little things make a huge difference. Moving the ball and getting the best shot possible. And the little tough things like boxing out, letting fatigue get the best of us.”

Weber echoed his lone senior on being more disciplined while being shorthanded.

“I thought against Oklahoma State our kids gave great effort,” Weber said. “I thought we could be a little smarter, more disciplined on things. Being undermanned, it helps to shorten the game. It also helps to make shots.”

Even with the predicament at hand, the Wildcats are staying loose and open-minded heading into Saturday’s game. At practice, the team is diving more into film and individual skill work due to the lack of bodies for full five-on-five runs. To make up for lost bodies, the coaching staff is filling in for the missing players.

“You can only go so long in practice because of the bodies,” Weber said. “I know when all the guys get back, our coaches will be happy because they won’t have to practice as much. That’s the only way we can go five-on-five.”

Saturday’s game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip-off in Austin, Texas. The game will be broadcasted on the Longhorn Network with radio coverage through the K-State Sports Network. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives K-State just a five percent chance to win.

“We’ll just do our best and that’s all you can do right now,” Weber said. “We made the best of the week and we’ll move forward.”