MANHATTAN — It seems as if Bruce Weber and his Kansas State Wildcats have spent their entire season so far in damage control.

After Tuesday's loss to Texas Tech, where they erased a 15-point deficit, only to lose by 14, Weber likened it to plugging holes in a dike, with new leaks springing up all the time.

And with games against nationally-ranked West Virginia and Kansas coming up in the next four days, it's not likely to get any easier for the Wildcats as they try to reverse a 7-9 record and a 0-4 start in the Big 12.

But Weber remained resolute heading into Saturday's 1 p.m. test against No. 12 West Virginia (14-2, 3-1 Big 12) at Bramlage Coliseum. And he still believes in his team.

"One, they care," he said after the 77-63 loss to Tech. "In the locker room, they cared after the game."

And that, he said, was his message to his players going forward.

"You've got to keep caring, got to keep believing," he said. "We also got to execute when it comes to the crunch-time part of the game. You play so hard and give yourselves a chance, but then you don't execute when it counts and you don't make the nitty-gritty plays that really matter."

The Wildcats battled back to take a brief one-point lead against Tech with 13 1/2 minutes left and tied it one more time, but the Red Raiders controlled the rest of the game. It's a familiar refrain.

Senior wing Xavier Sneed, who leads the Wildcats with 14.6 points and 5.0 rebounds a game, said he is trying to assert himself on a team that lost three dominant personalities from last year's Big 12 co-champions.

"I've got to lead the way to do it somehow, first and foremost," Sneed said. "I can't have breakdowns on the court.

"Also, just being that leader, being that senior figurehead for us, telling these guys that this is not the end. We've got a lot of basketball left and we've got a lot of great chances to do that, and have a lot of opportunities to show what we're about."

Against Texas Tech, Weber went with a smaller lineup for much of the game, partly in an effort to match up with the Red Raiders and partly due to a lack of production from veteran big men Makol Mawien and Levi Stockard.

Small may not be an option against West Virginia, which features standout big men Derek Culver and freshman Oscar Tshiebwe. Culver, a 6-foot-10 sophomore, averages 10.8 points and 9.7 rebounds, while the 6-9, 258-pound Tshiebwe is scoring at an 11.8-point clip with 9.6 rebounds a game.

"Just their physicality and they play very hard," Weber said in assessing the Mountaineers, who outrebound their opponents 44-33 on the average. "They're defending well. We're going to have to rebound and fight them off."

Mawien, a 6-9 senior and three-way starter, is averaging 7.1 points and 4.4 rebounds, but he played just six minutes in the Tech game with no points or rebounds and three fouls.

"Some of it was his fouls to start the game again," Weber said. "And he just doesn't have the energy and the motor that we need. I'm not sure what's wrong. I wish I knew.

"I talked to him. I feel bad for him because he's a better player than this. Saturday he's got to be better if we're going to have any chance against (West Virginia's) inside presence."

One bright spot for the Wildcats against Texas Tech was freshman forward Montavious Murphy, who scored a career-high 11 points with six rebounds. Point guard Cartier Diarra had 19 points, but turned the ball over six times.

"Carti has pretty good numbers — 19 (points) — and it was his best shooting of the year, but we probably need two-three guys really step up and be special if we're going to have a chance, and we're going to have to rebound," Weber said.